We tried: Cats on Mats yoga with rescue kittens at Canberra Pet Rescue
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We tried: Cats on Mats yoga with rescue kittens at Canberra Pet Rescue

Whether it's something you eat, something you do, something that's new to Canberra or something that's piqued our interest - we're about to road test some seriously cool experiences in our new 'We tried...' series.

Published every Monday, we'll put a range of things to the test and tell you exactly what we think, no holds barred. We're launching today with the purrfect article - we tried kitten yoga!

It's Friday night and I'm being out-performed in the yoga studio by an eight-week-old kitten named Fleur. As I watch her twist effortlessly into Weaving Cat (where honestly I think she has something of an advantage), I feel the distinct touch of whiskers on my foot. Charlie is getting sick of his sister showing off. He wiggles up between my calves.

The first ever Canberra session of Cats on Mats yoga kicked off on Friday 20, 2017 in Macquarie.

The first ever Canberra session of Cats on Mats yoga kicked off on Friday 20, 2017 in Macquarie. Credit:Elesa Kurtz

This is the first ever session of Cats on Mats yoga, a new initiative by Canberra Pet Rescue that pairs local yoga enthusiasts with rescue kittens, and I'm one of the lucky 40 who managed to grab a spot in the studio.

Tickets to the class sold out within two days of being advertised, sparking the need for a second 5.30pm session, but the waiting list has still stretched into the triple digits. Adding to the feline mystique, the location was kept secret to all but those who bagged a place.

A kitten keeps an eye on Zoe Sanders of Mawson during cat pose.

A kitten keeps an eye on Zoe Sanders of Mawson during cat pose. Credit:Elesa Kurtz

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"I was amazed at how quickly it sold out," founder Amanda Doelle said. "One woman said a single Cats on Mats ticket was more popular than double tickets to Adele in her office!

"We only launched as an animal rescue group in December and we've never done anything like this before, but I thought: 'I love cats and I love yoga so why not?'"

In the first class of the night, there's virtually no room to spare on the hard wood. I've squeezed my mat in up front, next to best friends Chelsea Hobert and Zoe Sanders.

Chelsea can't stop smiling. She tells me she also saw the class advertised on Facebook.

Sherryn Groch (back left) and Chelsea Hobert attend Cats on Mats run by Kylie Blacksell (back right).

Sherryn Groch (back left) and Chelsea Hobert attend Cats on Mats run by Kylie Blacksell (back right).Credit:Elesa Kurtz

"I signed us both up straight away, no question, I didn't even ask Zoe. We had a countdown going on Snapchat today."

I'm playing it cool, but I'm finding it hard to stop grinning myself. Since I moved up from Melbourne, signing my happiness away with a dreaded "pet-free lease", I've been living in a severe state of cat-deprivation.

A rescue kitten performs 'weaving cat' pose to perfection.

A rescue kitten performs 'weaving cat' pose to perfection. Credit:Elesa Kurtz

Yoga and I, on the other hand, have been taking some voluntary time apart, after another life of dance and then injury left me weeping quietly in child pose for my lost flexibility.

But with Charlie sniffing around, my legs are starting to forget their stiffness; I'm sinking lower as the ceiling fans thrum overhead and little paws skirt closer.

There are 10 kittens loose in tonight's class, all of them between just five and nine weeks old and all of them in need of a loving home.

Amanda tells me these two litters were saved from "death row" at the local pound and have been hand-picked for tonight out of the 37 felines currently being fostered by the rescue group.

To everyone's delight, our instructor, Kylie Blacksell, has brought us down to the floor – and kitten-height – fairly quickly.

Fingers are outstretched for curious little noses, poses put on hold as pats take priority. Every now and then, faint meows echo under Kylie's rhythmic soundtrack.

"Just be careful of little ones when you're rolling over," she says.

It's Kylie's first time at kitten yoga herself, having agreed to run the class for free. All proceeds from tonight's classes are going back into the work of Canberra Pet Rescue.

"My dog comes into my yoga studio a lot at home and does his stretches and then falls asleep during the meditation at the end," she said. "But I've never run anything like Cats on Mats before."

In this class, meditation involves cuddling up to a kitten for 20 or so minutes of guided breathing. For the squirmier feline, a few scratches under the chin seem to do the trick.

By the end of the hour-long session, almost half the cats are falling asleep and no one seems much in the mind to leave. There's unexpected emotion in the room too. One woman wipes her eyes with one hand, cradling a kitten closer with the other.

Kylie has already ruled the first class a success.

"It's really fun to see kittens crawling over people and see everyone connect with that innocence, and at one point one of the kittens even did the yoga pose we were all in!"

I glance over at Fleur, now sprawled across an extended leg. Chelsea and Zoe are passing the aptly named Cuddles back and forth as he snores gently between them.

With the noise and the excitement in the room, Kylie admits it was a "little tricky at first" to run a normal yoga class.

"But then we hit that point where we all came to a place of stillness and everyone just relaxed; the cats too."

Leaving the class, I ask Chelsea if the session has lived up to the expectations of a self-confessed "crazy cat lady".

"Oh yes and then some!" she said. "I did feel guilty getting distracted from the yoga. But then you look over and see a kitten or you see someone else interacting with the kitten and it just makes you so happy."

Zoe is still holding onto Cuddles. He's the runt of his particular litter and Amanda tells us they very "nearly lost him". Costly vet bills have led the rescue group to start a GoFundMe campaign.

"I wouldn't have called myself a cat person before," Zoe said. "But now I am, definitely."

It's getting to the point where I need to hand Charlie back myself. He has little tufted ears and it's harder than I expected. But then that's exactly what the team at Canberra Pet Rescue are counting on.

"We've been getting lots of calls already," Amanda said. "Fleur has now been adopted and Monkey and Link too."

The verdict: With more sessions on the horizon, at yet more undisclosed locations, these gentle classes will suit everyone, from beginner to veteran (or just die-hard cat lover).

Hot tip: bring a lint-roller for your black yoga pants after class. And, whatever you do, don't ask to do downward-facing dog.

Cats on Mats yoga

Canberra Pet Rescue and Human Happiness yoga

Sherryn Groch is a reporter for The Canberra Times, with a special interest in education and social affairs