Yoga Class Stretches to Include Animal Activism

“Yoga with Cats” at Sanctuary Brewing is a partnership with Blue Ridge Humane Society.    Photo by Tim Robison

Never mind Downward Dog, Sun Salutations or any other, trickier poses — if you’re attending the Saturday-morning yoga class at Sanctuary Brewing Company, simply maneuvering your mat to where the sunbeams hit will yield the most benefits. “Yoga With Cats” is a rather brilliant concept that’s gaining traction all over the country: local animal shelters bring their chillest feline residents to yoga class to mingle with practitioners. Whoever’s in the market for a new kitty can be introduced to potential pets in a low-pressure setting. But even those who aren’t looking to adopt get to revel in the atmosphere.

Mostly, of course, it’s practiced in hushed studios. But even though hiply industrial, high-ceilinged Sanctuary Brewing isn’t a typical yogic venue, its own version of the yoga-with-cats concept is particularly suitable. Opened last year by Lisa McDonald and Joe Dinan, the downtown gathering spot crafts a unique entrepreneurial angle in its animal-advocacy programs. McDonald is a former legal consultant, a vegan, and a long-time animal-rights activist, and Dinan is a professional brewer. At their 3-acre property in Flat Rock, they care for dozens of rescue pets, including an in-home pig. Events at the brewery, e.g. “Pints for Pets,” evolve from liaisons with local animal shelters. And a month ago, Sanctuary debuted its own line of 15 craft vegan beers.

On the wintry morning Bold Life attended Yoga With Cats, more than 25 people unfurled their mats on the brewery’s cement floor. (Sanctuary is housed in a 140-year-old building and has cycled through many identities — the street-facing wall is a folding glass door that’s a now-chic reminder of the space’s days as a garage). Teacher Lyndi Horn led an hour-and-a-half session of classic poses, targeted for beginners but leaving plenty of space for more experienced practitioners to tailor intentions to their skill level.

Four cats — the sleek black Gleam; Lord Edward Kennedy, a striking, long-haired black cat sporting one eye and a pirate vibe; black-and-white Vinnie; and Buena, a gray tabby — darted silently among the attendees, stretching in sunbeams, sniffing arms and heels, and generally lending a pulse of warmth and camaraderie to the room.

“I love teaching Yoga With Cats,” says Horn, an instructor with YAM [Yoga and Massage Hendersonville] and with the Kenmure community in Flat Rock, who shares class leadership at Sanctuary with Chantal Berot, also of YAM.

“It lightens up the class,” notes Horn. “It felt both humorous and loving to have the cats slide up along your arm, and I noticed one cat particularly attached to one student, continuously touching and rubbing against the student, yet not interfering with her poses. It builds a trust and a warmth between both the people and animals.

“I find that with cats, this pairing particularly works, as cats seem to observe and need to be the one initiating contact, thus not necessarily disrupting the class,” adds Horn. “I’ve never experienced yoga with dogs other than my own — however, I would love to. Dogs in my experience seem to interact faster and interpret some poses, such as downward dog or heart openers, as an invitation to play — not to mention their love of giving kisses. It would be disrupting but amusing.”

Horn is a certified dance instructor in both modern and ballet, with degrees in dance therapy and counseling. She’s been teaching for more than three decades, concentrating on yoga (Hatha, Vinyasa, and other modalities) for the last three-and-a-half of those years.

“I discovered yoga after retiring from a stressful career in the criminal-justice system, followed by personal loss and tragedy,” says Horn. “I began with classes for high-risk vulnerable populations as a means to manage stress and trauma while calming the nervous system. I foresee myself involved with yoga for the remainder of my life.”

Vinnie and Kennedy can also look forward to a happy ending: both cats were adopted the day after the event.

Yoga With Cats! happens Saturday mornings in March at 10:30am at Sanctuary Brewing Co (147 First Ave East). The $5 fee benefits Blue Ridge Humane Society. 828-595-9956. www.sanctuarybrewco.com.

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