ELYRIA — Moments before the yoga class began, “Belcher” claimed his spot in the room.
He didn’t need a yoga mat, water bottle or towel.
He just needed space.
And he found it — front and center, in front of all the other students just as yoga instructor Julie VanMeter-Moffitt began her class inside the Friendship Animal Protective League on Murray Ridge Road.
Belcher didn’t stay in his spot too long; and no one seemed to mind that he came and went as he pleased.
But Belcher isn’t your typical yoga student; however, he has perfected the “cat pose” because well, he’s a cat.
On Tuesday, Belcher, along with some of his feline friends at Friendship APL, took part in Meow-Maste Kitty Cat Yoga during the first such class at the adoption agency, spearheaded by VanMeter-Moffitt.
VanMeter-Moffitt, who teaches yoga at LaGrange Yoga and Keystone Schools, has been a yoga instructor for six years. A few years ago, she saw kitten-cat yoga online, and noticed it having success in places like Colorado and California.
Knowing it could be successful in Northeast Ohio, back in 2015, VanMeter-Moffitt contacted a friend at the Berea Animal Rescue Fund and held a kitten-cat yoga class there. Seeing that it was successful, she wanted to bring it closer to her home and contacted Friendship APL.
“I was the first to bring kitty cat yoga to Northeast Ohio,” VanMeter-Moffitt said.
Friendship APL program coordinator Cathy Belt was thrilled with the idea presented by VanMeter-Moffitt.
“Julie has such a big heart and she makes it a great experience for everyone,” Belt said. “And, for a small fee of $15 these people are saving animals’ lives, it’s great for the cats, plus a cat or kitten can get adopted.”
Before the class began, Belt informed the students that Meow-Maste Kitty Cat Yoga is “a very hands-on activity.”
“The cats will explore, but if you don’t want them by you, just let us know,” Belt said. “But, we are here for the cats. And, if you fall in love with the cats, they are available for adoption tonight.”
It was as if that was the cats’ cue to become playful.
Throughout the 45-minute class, Belcher, a 7-year-old black domestic short-hair cat, and his friends roamed around the makeshift yoga studio. A few hid behind blankets and chairs, poking their heads out every so often. Other cats opted to lie on yoga mats as if that is where they belonged.
The kittens were the most energetic of the group as they pounced and rolled around on the floor in between yoga mats. On occasion, while the students remained focused and quiet, a ball with a bell inside could be heard sliding across the floor.
“Oh, look at them go!” VanMeter-
Moffitt said, laughing as she tossed catnip on the floor.
In between cat and kitten playtime, VanMeter-Moffitt switched from cat lover to yoga instructor as she told the students: “Be aware of the space around you. Open up your chest and picture what brings you happiness … like cats.”
Toward the end of the class, Nicole Hickey, 30, of North Ridgeville, was attempting to stretch and at the same time a kitten found a new climbing toy — her leg.
Hickey didn’t even flinch.
“I love cats, but my husband is allergic so this is the chance for me to get my ‘cat-fix,’” she said.
Like Hickey, Kathryn Stewart, of Lorain, is a cat lover, but she has opened to her home to many stray cats who need a home.
Even though she has cats and kittens at home, Stewart wanted to add her love of yoga into the mix, and that is what led her to the Friendship APL on Tuesday.
“It’s wonderful to help out the APL,” Stewart said.
And that is the main goal behind Meow-Maste Kitty Cat Yoga, VanMeter-Moffitt said.
On top of being a yoga instructor, VanMeter-Moffitt has been a foster mom for puppies left at Friendship APL. However, her purpose always has been to ensure all animals at the APL find their forever home.
VanMeter-Moffitt admitted Meow-Maste Kitty Cat Yoga isn’t your typical yoga, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a practice.
“Practicing yoga in an environment that’s all about love and play is also a wonderful way to introduce the practice to those who have never tried yoga,” she said. “It’s super trendy, and of course it’s not what some would call ‘authentic yoga,’ but it brings people together for a good cause and the sweet little animals get all kinds of love.”
The next Meow-Maste Kitty Cat Yoga is scheduled for Oct. 26.
For more information, or to sign up, visit https://bit.ly/2A8O8F4.