If there were a soundtrack to “Stretch and Snuggle,” a Saturday morning yoga class held alongside residents of the Brooklyn Cat Cafe, it would be sustained, high-pitched giggling. The cafe is really a shelter that opened a year ago on Atlantic Avenue — with a few cozy couches to sit on and snacks you can purchase while playing with adoptable cats for a modest fee of $5. Or you can shell out $25 like I did for a good hour-long stretch among friends.
Given the age-old problem of living in New York and never being home, I currently don’t have any pets. I used to walk dogs at a shelter in Manhattan, but ended up spending an inordinate amount of time cleaning up poop — inordinate for an extracurricular activity anyway.
Recently, I’ve found myself gravitating toward cats — often at dinner parties or other social occasions where I can use them to get out of talking to other humans. Unfortunately, when I brought up the possibility of adopting one, my husband informed me of his cat allergy. To get my feline fix, I decided I needed a solution that would offer maximum access with minimal effort. Lazy yoga once a month sounded perfect.
I arrived at the cat cafe in Brooklyn Heights on a Saturday morning to find at least a dozen of my furry friends gliding around a storefront the size of a nail salon, like denizens in a dry aquarium. Later, while cat-ing and cowing, upward dogging and child’s posing, I would notice even more pairs of eyes hidden between shelves and under sofas. Every once in awhile, a giant mass of black and brown stripes weaved slowly in and out of the crowd — a whale shark among fish, menacing in appearance but harmless in disposition.
One of the five other women waiting for class to begin passed me a laser pointer, which I used to disrupt the flow of cats for a minute or so before we laid out our mats. The policy is BYO, and preferably one you don’t care about, since scratching it into oblivion will be the only objective of at least one of your new friends. Luckily, an orange cat too lazy to do any damage plopped down squarely in front of me and gave a half-ass swipe at my yoga strap before lying down and rolling over onto his side.
Elsewhere, turf wars ensued. One woman forgot to bring a mat and had to use clean blankets that belonged to the shelter’s inhabitants. When we rolled onto our backs, the cats immediately swarmed her. A persistent little kitty with a pink collar put its head in her armpit and dug under her back with a tiny white paw. I’m pretty sure it was trying to dislocate her shoulder.
Since the cats are constantly in flux due to adoptions and fostering, the crew you’ll encounter at yoga is difficult to predict. When we stood up to lunge and stretch our hamstrings using blocks, a black and white clan of four, dubbed the “tuxedo mafia,” swished under and around our legs. As the action heated up, the instructor peppered our giggling with declarations like “Oh, it’s live this month!” And when a fat cat perched at the front of the room hissed at a little kitten, she made sure to scold him for it. “Rude!”
Throughout the class, we were encouraged to “Stop, drop, and snuggle” with any cat we fancied, which I did strategically when I was tired of pretending to do yoga. (If you like a good stretch but can’t commit to practicing yoga often enough to enjoy it, this class is probably the right level for you.) The next day, I noticed my armpits were sore — I think from holding my arms out toward cats as they ran away from me.
Not being practiced in the art of cat whispering means not knowing how to properly entice them with hand games or tsk-ing noises. I had only my dog cooing voice and size advantage to rely on. Luckily, at the end of the class, the instructor rounded up six cats and handed them to us individually to cuddle with. I got a grey and black striped kitten who let me pet him for a few minutes before darting off to hide behind some blocks.
Afterwards, I stayed for another twenty minutes or so to watch them mill about, unencumbered by flailing floor beasts. I noticed a few scaredy cats who had remained hidden during the commotion now popping their heads up from behind furniture — only to hide again once we made eye contact. Soon, feeding time attracted a swell to the front, where nearly every hard surface, including the counter and garbage can, had suddenly became covered in cats. The eating frenzy should have been at least a little nauseating. Still, I found myself not wanting to leave.
It turns out that cat yoga is a gateway drug — and not to more yoga. Unlike dogs, whose incessant whining demands constant attention, cats are fairly apathetic. There’s no pressure to answer to their every whim. Unfortunately, due to my life circumstances, I seem destined to remain pet-less for at least the foreseeable future. My inner cat lady will have to make due with “Stretch and Snuggle,” although I am considering expanding my repertoire.
The Brooklyn Cat Cafe does offer other classes, although space fills up if you don’t book in advance. I tried to sign up for a Sunday morning “Cats and Mats” session the night before — only to find it unavailable. There’s also a regular yoga class on Wednesday nights, but it doesn’t have a clever name, like “Purr-fect Pose” (or, perhaps more a more accurate description would be “There’s a Cat in my Armpit”). If you are truly lazy, do not despair. They also have movie night and happy hour.
No cats were harmed in the writing of this post. They did, however, see me doing yoga.