Meow Parlour is a cat cafe on the Lower East Side that recently started offering yoga with Amy Apgar on Tuesday afternoons. Sleuth heard classes fill up quickly so, I went through the easy online registration process to secure a mat.
The cafe regularly operates as a place for people to come by and play with the furry felines. All the cats are up for adoption in partnership with KittyKind, a local non-profit cat rescue group.
Check-in begins 30 minutes prior to class, allowing for plenty of time to hang out with the kitties. On the day of my visit there were 13 cats present—though some were never seen as they like to hide—and on any visit, the number of cats can range from 8-14.
When Amy arrived, several of us were gathered around an energetic kitty dancing with a soft toy handled by a kid who was wrapping up his session at the cafe. Amy began laying out mats, which are provided by Meow Parlour, since a cat could easily mistake a yoga mat for a scratch toy. She then introduced herself to the group, and asked if anyone was new to yoga. (There were two newcomers.) She went on to explain that this would be a basic vinyasa class, and that sometimes the cats like to participate.
“Yoga is a mindful practice. We must pay attention to how we move our bodies, particularly in this setting so no cats are accidentally kicked,” she said. When she spoke, her tone was light, almost playful, to match the vibe of the kitty-centric space.
We began in a comfortable cross-legged position. Amy encouraged us to take deep, full breaths in and out through our noses. She told us to let all the stresses from our days melt away. From there, we went to rest in Child’s Pose.
“Let your head go, you’re holding your head up all day—now is the time to let it relax,” she said, while I placed my forehead on the mat.
Then we took our first upright posture: Cat.
Directly in front of me—I was in the first row—was a wall of wide cubbies, something you would see in a living room holding a TV, books, and other personal mementos. But this was a wall for cats, complete with pillows, scratch pads, and holes so they could move freely about. One was lounging, with its hind legs resting on its head, eyes barely open. Clearly, our afternoon yoga session was also prime time for a cat nap.
In Downward Dog, Amy walked around to help some students find the correct placements for their hands. She helped one woman walk her fingers a bit more forward, while another needed to close the gap.
We flowed through a few rounds of Sun Salutations with the only cat sightings on the cubby wall, napping. The atmosphere felt homey with pets, but the yoga felt similar to yoga in a studio.
I asked Amy, after class, how she creates her sequences specifically for the cat cafe.
“The sequences I teach at the cat cafe are more boiled down and basic than what I teach in other spaces, although all of the elements of a complete vinyasa flow class are there. The class at Meow is just 45 minutes as opposed to the 60 or 75 minute classes I teach at other studios. Additionally, we want the class at Meow to be really accessible to all levels, including beginners. It will feel like a complete class, but with more emphasis on alignment than crazy sequencing or challenging poses, which is actually a refreshing practice for even the 'advanced' yogi,” she said.
About halfway through the class, a grey and white faced kitty made its way right to my mat.
“I’m going to participate!” Amy purred, speaking for the cutie.
I recalled the bit about being mindful in my practice from the beginning of class, and now that there was a cat on my mat, I had no choice but to pay attention.
Amy and I spoke about this after class.
She said, “Doing yoga with cats not only helps us to be more mindful—extra important to be aware of where you are placing your body, because you don't want to run into a kitty— but it also reminds us to take everything a bit less seriously. This class is a lot of fun because there's a lighthearted sense of overall self-awareness—this ridiculousness of a bunch of cats watching curiously or walking among, or on, the yogis. It ensures that you are present in the moment, because you never know what may happen.”
The little guy moved from mat to mat before finally settling into a cozy spot off to the side.
After class, Amy shared what she’s noticed about the cats in class.
“So far they like Savasana the most—don't we all!—and tend to come by to be snuggled or pet while the yogis are lying on their mats. I also like to watch as the students move around during class, because chances are they'll come face to face with a cat at some point and burst out laughing.”
When we went down to the floor for backbends, Bridge was offered, and Wheel for those who had that in their practice.
For inversions, Amy suggested Shoulderstand or Viparita Karani, and then we melted into Savasana.
After rest, we came up to sit and chanted Om. The kitties in the cubbies perked up with the sound, confirming that the universal vibration works for all.
—Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth
Yoga classes at Meow Parlour are $20 including mat rental. (You can also bring your own mat if you don't mind potential cat scratches.)