Category Archives: Reasons why

FAQs: Cat yoga in Birmingham, Alabama at the Greater Birmingham Humane Society

Roll onto your right side, coming into a comfortable fetal position for a final moment of rest and relaxation.

Roll onto your side, coming into a comfortable fetal position for a final moment of rest and relaxation.

Cat yoga? What’s that?

It’s as simple as it sounds: People doing yoga in a room that contains cats.

So the cats don’t do yoga?

Nope. The cats do whatever they want. They’re cats. (But in my opinion, they’re awfully yogic creatures. They don’t need my help. I need theirs. Speaking of …)

Why cats?

A few reasons. First, I’m a cat lady, and I’m not shy about it. Remember actress Cara Hartmann’s fake eHarmony profile video from a few years back? (If not, watch it here.) Yeah, OK. I’m not quite as intense as her character, but I really love cats. They make life better. They’re zen little creatures, seriously. One of my cats likes to sit in my lap and purr when I meditate, and she helps keep me centered.

But no, they’re not the best at the physical aspect of yoga. You’ll catch them in a pose now and then (especially savasana), but my cats usually like to play, rub my ankles and bat at my hair during my home practice.

It makes me laugh, and I want to share that experience with others. So, cat yoga it is!

Why yoga?

I could write a book about that. (I kind of have.) But in short: Yoga helps me slow my mind, calm my breath and take each moment one at a time.

What happens to the money?

I’ve built the Greater Birmingham Humane Society’s cat yoga program in such a way that the teacher gets paid a stipend and the organization keeps the rest.I want teachers to have the option of being paid because we’re often asked to work for free.

You can learn about the programs your money would fund at

So long as I teach this program, I will decline payment. That means GBHS receives 100 percent of the money from the public classes I teach in its facility.

OK, I’m convinced. How much is it?

Classes are $15 each.

When? Where?

Join us the third Sunday of each month from noon to 1 p.m. (ish) at the Greater Birmingham Humane Society. That’s 300 Snow Drive, Birmingham, AL 35209.

How do I sign up?

Visit the GBHS website. If the date isn’t posted, registration hasn’t opened. We expect most classes to sell out, so register in advance. Space is limited.

How do I know when registration is open?

I’ll notify people on my mailing list as soon as I’m aware it’s up. Sign up here.

What should I wear?

Comfortable clothes you can move in. They don’t have to be “yoga clothes.” The most important thing is you’re comfortable and your shirt won’t flip up and show everything when you move into downward facing cat.

What will take place?

Join me and the felines in the GBHS conference room. The number of cats will vary class to class; GBHS selects them from one of its colonies, and the staff takes into consideration the cats’ moods that day. Eight cats joined my birthday party. Six visited the first public class.

I’ll start by explaining the rules of cat yoga. No. 1: Let the cats come to you. No. 2: If you’d rather play with cats than move through the poses, cool! Play with the cats. (You’ll catch me doing the same.)

The class itself lasts one hour. We’ll start slowly, with breath work and gentle stretches, and move into a more active practice. The style I teach is called core strength vinyasa, and it emphasizes softening before moving into a pose. That helps us experience our full range of movement. I don’t get as much into the details as I would in a typical class–you can join me for those some other time. But I remain true to this teaching. It’s a physically challenging practice, but I offer lots of stopping points along the way.

Challenging? Does that mean I shouldn’t come if I’ve never done yoga?

Nope! I’ll coach you in making smart choices for your body on this day. I always say, if you’d like to spend the entire class in child’s pose, I think that’s a great option. That’s especially true in cat yoga, when you might have a feline friend to cuddle.

What’s in it for the cats?

Important question! GBHS uses this program as a way to help socialize the cats. They get to spend time with people in a free environment. It also introduces people to adoptable pets. At least one cat found her furrever home at our October class, and others found advocates who intended to lobby friends to adopt them.

Cat yoga? In Alabama? It’s a thing – and you can join me

OK crazy cat lady, I want to know more about you–and your cats.

I’ve been owned by cats all but maybe six months of my life. The first cat I remember, Rugrat, was so gentle he let my sister and I use him as a pillow. Our next family cat, Tuffy, was a pale ginger tabby. We adopted him when I was about 5, and he lived until I was in college.

I’m currently loved on and bossed around by a pair of ginger kitties, McCartney Jane and Harrison Vann. Mac is the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received, thanks to a former roommate. I was three days catless after my previous cat, Emma, died suddenly. I’d spent those days crying myself to sleep and insisting that no one should give me a kitten. Fortunately, Abi didn’t listen.

On Christmas Eve, 2009, an aunt mentioned that she knew someone with a male orange kitten up for adoption. I thought, “Hmm. Maybe if that cat’s still available when I’m ready, I could adopt him. What would I call such a cat? How about McCartney? Ooh, but what about a female ginger cat named McCartney?!”

I arrived home that afternoon, and Abi was at the end of the hall holding an orange kitten. “I got her for you, but if you’re not ready, she can be the house cat,” she said.


Abi confirmed.

“Well, hello, McCartney.”

Although she’d been at Abi’s parents’ house for a couple of days, Mac knew we belonged together as soon as we met.

I thought I was a one-cat girl because Emma demanded all my attention and was unsure of other people. (She was a tortoiseshell. It’s the normal tortitude.) But years after Abi and her pets, another roommate moved out and took her cat with her. Mac was lonely. She begged for attention every time my new roommate and I came home. I tried to entertain her with toys and puzzles, but it wasn’t enough. That’s where Harry came in.

A new friend requested that I like the Facebook page of a rescue for which she volunteered. When she sent me the link to Have a Heart Animal Rescue and Adoption, Harry’s was the cover photo. I was done.

Mac didn’t like him at first (what cat likes a stranger cat at first meeting?), but they both slept in my bed that night. Now I often catch them cuddling and bathing each other. He’s a momma’s boy and she’s a momma’s girl (totally different things). He irritates her sometimes; at least once a day, Harry tries to wrestle and Mac hisses to remind him that it’s never, ever a good idea in her estimation. He’s a typical baby brother and a love muffin.

I want more Mac and Harry!

Of course you do. They’re the best. You can follow them on Instagram @beatlecats (although I don’t update that often). Look to the right for links to all of my social media; they make regular appearances.

Why don’t you adopt more cats?

I live in a small house, about 750 square feet, with a roommate. Until I have space for another litter box, two cats is my limit.

And how did this get started, again?

I asked for birthday party ideas and my friend June suggested cat yoga. You can find the complete story here.

Got more cat yoga questions? Post ’em in the comments.

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Filed under Autobiography, Bits & Pieces, Cat yoga, Reasons why, Yoga

The sound of solitude

Beginning at age 4, my nightly tradition became reading a book while listening to music. I may have set a sleep timer on my 1980s clock radio, or perhaps I let the Top 40 sing me straight through till morning. I don’t recall now. But as far back as memory will carry me, music was the background to my life.

That changed several years ago. I found myself switching to public radio or silence for my post-work commute; I’d had enough stimulation throughout the day. When I got home, I left the radio, iPod and iTunes idle.

Quiet took music’s place.

My evenings are instead filled with the sounds of my cats’ meows, a train rolling down the tracks miles away or the clatter of my fingertips across the keyboard. Podcasts provide occasional company and information, particularly when I’m in the middle of a hated task like folding the laundry.

I thought this was the result of years of music writing. I dabbled in the genre starting my freshman year of college, and after years of reviewing I needed a break. It’s fun to be the first among your friends to acquire an album and declare a band the Next Big Thing, but it becomes exhausting. (And I know people who are much better at than I am!) Frequently, I longed to listen to The Beatles instead of whoever was coming through town next. Silence seemed an apt response as I moved away from the music beat.

There may be truth to that. But tonight, as one of my best friends and I decided to take a break from social media, for the first time I realized that may be as much a factor.

I’m addicted to information. I surely check my email a hundred times a day. Typing in “fa” for Facebook or “tw” for Twitter before letting my browser complete the rest is almost a tic. During a recent magazine subscription purge, I narrowed the list to 10 must-have mags (and that was as deep as I felt I could cut). Social media, however, can serve as a bullhorn rather than a means of discussion. And I’m tired.

So I’m taking a break. It’s something I’ve never done before; I’ve been on Facebook since 2004, Twitter since 2008. I believe in their value. (Just last week, Facebook alerted a couple of Pennsylvania friends that I was in New York City when they would be, as well. I’m glad for the impetus to get together.)

I’ll be back, I’m sure. The aforementioned friend and I are taking a step back during the Advent season, intentionally drawing boundaries with social media in hopes of creating more space in our lives. Many posit that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Accurate or not, we’ll see where we are at the end of these 22.

“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to know enough about yourself and who you are, and be comfortable enough with that. That way, when you are with another person, you’re not trying to make that person into somebody you need them to be in order to buttress a fragile sense of your own self. You can actually turn to a person and see them as another person, and have a real relationship with them.” —Sherry Turkle in “Relearning How to Talk in the Age of Smartphone Addiction.” Our discussion of this article is what led Heather and I to take this break.

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Filed under Autobiography, Reasons why

Contemplating “The Geography of You and Me”

Nearly three years ago, I responded to a post in a Facebook group from a woman seeking a copy editor for her memoir. Although I didn’t yet know this woman, I knew of her; Amy Bickers and I had several friends in common and I read her riotously funny blog, Vodka Cranberry Clooney. I jumped at the chance to edit her book, largely because I badly wanted to read it.

I knew it wouldn’t be an easy story. Amy’s memoir is an account of witnessing her ex-husband’s suicide and how she processed the darkness that followed. She writes beautifully, powerfully about mental illness, addiction and the sorrow of those left behind. Although the subject matter is dark, the book is ultimately hopeful.

Since she entrusted me with her words, I’ve been convinced that Amy must share her story with the world. Many agents said kind things, but ultimately passed on it because they believed the subject matter would be hard to sell.

At last, Amy has taken matters into her own hands.

Today she launched a Kickstarter to fund “The Geography of You and Me,” which was the best book I read in 2012. In fewer than 24 hours, Amy is $246 from her funding goal.

Let’s push her over the top. (Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to see this project funded in less than a day?)

Amy has written beautifully on the campaign page about what you’ll find in the book and why it matters. I encourage you to spend some time with her words. But I also urge you to consider this: Reading someone else’s story helps us better understand the world. That’s why I believe “The Geography of You and Me” must be published. Regardless of whether you see yourself or someone you know in this story, I believe it offers valuable insight into an all-too-common struggle. Understanding one another helps us embrace our humanity.

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Filed under Reading, Reasons why, Soapbox

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …

I’m a leader, sometimes to the point of being pushy. That’s a natural result of being an oldest child.

Around age 3 my sister Cristin, who is 14 months and nine days younger than me, was a ballerina for Halloween. I couldn’t in good conscience send her to the church fall festival without a few steps in her repertoire, and so I took it upon myself to teach her some basic ballet steps.

I’m now 33, and I have yet to take a day of ballet.

And so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I solved the Mystery of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Growing up, Cristin and I would often sing the song and perform hand motions. (A late-’80s video of this is a family treasure.) But as we grew older, I could never find anyone else who knew these motions. I became convinced it was an Alabama thing. That must be why our Florida brethren had no idea why we jutted our chins back and forth when singing “two turtle doves.”

I moved back to Alabama in 2003, and I was certain that I would at last find my kind of holiday performer. But after months of asking around, I still couldn’t find anyone who knew what I was talking about. I’ve since Googled in search of our kindred, and while there are videos documenting motions, they only occasionally overlap with our performances.

At last, I realized my older sibling tendencies must have struck again. Without any evidence that others know these motions, I deduced that I made up the movements and taught Cristin to follow in the foolishness.

Merry Christmas! Enjoy the documentation of our foolishness, circa February 2003.

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Filed under Autobiography, Reasons why

It’s nice to have you in Birmingham

“It’s nice to have you in Birmingham.” That mid-century motto touted Birmingham’s welcome during tumultuous times. But the city, however imperfect, has come a long way–which has been marked frequently during this, the 50th year since so many important moments in civil rights history in Birmingham and otherwise.

Regardless of anniversaries or occasions, I believe this city offers many reasons to brag. Earlier this year, economic development group REV Birmingham launched its LIV Birmingham initiative to promote life within city limits. I wrote about the project for the May issue of Birmingham magazine.

Are you looking for a modern condo in a building above a restaurant, steps away from a coffee shop and within blocks of your office?

Well, yes. You know downtown can offer city living.
But what if what you really want is parks, a fenced-in yard and affordable housing with plenty of space? Or historic charm, nearby schools and a short drive to downtown?

Birmingham has that, too.

That’s the message behind LIV Birmingham, a marketing initiative that will launch this month in an effort to recruit residents to the 99 neighborhoods within Birmingham city limits. It’s a project of REV Birmingham, the economic development organization that was formed last fall by the merger of Operation New Birmingham and Main Street Birmingham.


Now, my own Birmingham story is featured at I’m grateful to call this city my home, and I actively try to recruit everyone I can into my quiet, friendly neighborhood. (One of my college roommates recently moved down the street. Her previous location? Washington, D.C. I’m serious about this, y’all.) Want to know more about why I love where I live? Just ask–but be sure you have time to listen to me prattle on about the city’s many virtues.

Hey there, Carla Jean! Why don’t we get started— where in this great city do you call home?

Crestline Park. I’ve also lived in Crestline Gardens and Huffman in Birmingham, and the metro-area cities of Trussville and Irondale.

Very cool. So have you always been a Birminghamian?

This is my third time living in Birmingham. I relocated most recently from Cullman (where I lived in 2006), and in 2003 I came back to the state of Alabama after 15 years in Florida.

Read more “Proud Placemaker: Carla Jean Whitley, Crestline Park” on

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Filed under Autobiography, Reasons why, Soapbox

So Mom, tell me the stories about my history

I’m one of the lucky ones. When I was 10 years old, I decided I wanted to become a writer because I was more excited by writing essays than watching TV after school. I followed a traditional path, filling dozens of journals, writing for school newspapers and yearbooks, earning a degree in journalism. In May 2005, I entered the field of my dreams. Even as my pen earns my paycheck, I fill free time with writing and reading.

My parents always encouraged and embraced my love of words; I learned to read at age 4, and I’m convinced that was in part because of how much my mom reads. I’ve read myself to sleep nearly every night since (with music, my other great love, playing in the background). Their affirmation has come without regard for higher-paying careers, and in spite of my mom’s long-held fear that my career will carry me to New York City. (Daddy still hopes I’ll write the Great American Novel and fund his retirement. I’ll join him in that dream!)

I thought of this today as I read “So Your Child Wants to Be a Poet,” an entry in the New Yorker’s book blog, The Book Bench. One of my sisters–who fulfilled Mom’s fears years ago with her move to NYC–and I recently agreed that we hit the parent jackpot. Not every child does. I’m grateful for parents whose love and support continue to enable me to chase my dreams.

Today’s subject line comes from “Kankakee” by Andrew Osenga.

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Filed under Autobiography, Journalism, Reasons why

Sometimes you just need somebody else

Originally posted on Birmingham Box Set, Feb. 8, 2010. Reposted here because it’s what I need today.

As much time as I spend bouncing from concert to fundraiser to party, the truth of the matter is that I’m an introvert. I love spending full weekends curled up in bed with my cat, a book and a cup of coffee.

Two months ago, I moved in with a roommate after two and a half years living on my own. I loved living alone. I had my own space, everything was just as I wanted it, and coming home was like a little retreat. It’s not that I don’t have those things in my new house. But I opted to live with a roommate again in part because I am so prone to retreating when something’s on my mind. Sometimes my introverted tendencies get the best of me.

This is a playlist for those times.

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Filed under Autobiography, music, Reasons why

Everything turns to you

I just finished reading an interview with author Azar Nafisi in the January 2009 issue of Book Page. Nafisi wrote the much-lauded Reading Lolita in Tehran, and her new memoir is Things I’ve Been Silent About. Referring to the first book, the interviewer asked why Nafisi reads, and her response struck home.

“I read for the same reason that I write: I cannot help myself. It is like falling in love, there must be a number of reasons why one falls in love, but when it comes to explaining them, one can feel tongue-tied. …”

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Filed under Journalism, Reading, Reasons why

Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart

I bought a new planner at the beginning of this month. And though the first day listed didn’t arrive until this week, I’ve been carrying it around since its purchase. It shouldn’t be surprising that I’m excited–I’m a planner, myself. I’ve dutifully filled out its pages, adding my contact information and plotting out weekends months from now. I’ve stroked its cover hundreds of times, admiring the tiny notebook that even tucks neatly into my purse. But you know what I’m most excited about?

The teeny space provided for each day.

My tendency to overschedule spiraled out of control this year. I justified it during the summer; my friends and I labeled our silly evenings “college nights” (because that’s where it felt like we were!) and took advantage of our remaining time with a buddy by marking the 40 Days and 40 Nights of Brett. It was summer, and things were allowed to be a little busy.

But as fall arrived and wore on, I booked almost every night with activity. Thursdays were typically overscheduled with two or three events demanding my presence. At one point Jamie pointed out that I felt obligated–I wasn’t attending things because I wanted to, but because I felt that I ought. She was right.

And because I packed my calendar full, I often missed out on spontaneous gatherings with people I really care about. Weeks of vegetables would pile up because I was never home. Once I even went several weeks without finishing a book!

I’ve thought a lot about slowing down, only commiting myself to events I really want to attend, prioritizing quiet time with friends or myself. A time or two I’ve even asked a friend to keep me mindful of these things.

And yes, I realize that it’s a bit silly to expect a 3×5 notebook to do the same. But I’m hopeful. I hope that these tiny pages will at least be a visual reminder that I don’t have all the time in the world.

My optimism never dies. Happy 2009.


Filed under Autobiography, Reasons why

Breaking our own rules, we’re gonna pull through

My cat took off for a little respite this afternoon. She’s an inside cat, but every now and then I’ll let her out for an adventure. Usually she abides by the house rules: Stay in our yard, and don’t bring any other creatures inside with you. Yesterday she broke rule two, twice. This afternoon she violated rule one.

I typically won’t let her out if I have to be somewhere within the hour, and today I had at least an hour and a half (maybe two) before I had to leave for church. At 3:30 I started calling her in. At 4 p.m. I started to get a little annoyed—I had a meeting before church and I needed to leave by 4:10 to make it on time. By 4:50 I realized I wasn’t going to church tonight. By 6 I began to get worried.

Of course she strolled in on her own about 15 minutes later—no harm, no foul, as far as she was concerned. And the truth is, maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing for me, either. Emma’s little rendezvous forced me to take a much-needed quiet night in.

Those have become rare lately, and that’s a problem. Until recently a week filled with nightly activities was an anomaly. They occurred perhaps once a month, but no more than that. Now it seems I overschedule myself every week. (In fact, I’ve been meaning to write this blog entry for months—months!–and haven’t taken the time to do it.)

And I need a lot of alone time, a lot of downtime, to function at 100 percent. I am the happiest when a week includes cooking at home, cleaning my apartment, reading way more than I should, a quiet night or two with a small group of friends and maybe one evening out. This week, though?

Monday: Writing night at a coffee shop. Tuesday: Trivia at a sports bar. Wednesday: Dinner. Thursday: Writing breakfast at a coffee shop. Work party. Wine (or in my case, water) with a coworker and friends. Concert. Friday: Dinner and a concert. Saturday: Football game viewing, then a night on the farm.

Yes, they’re all good things, and that’s why it’s so hard for me not to overload myself. But I’m burning out. And when I hit that point, I’m not taking care of myself or caring for my friends (or my cat!). I miss all three.

I’m trying to get better. My calendar for the approaching week isn’t nearly as full, and I’m working on a project that requires me to slow down. It isn’t easy, and frankly, I probably need more help with this than I realize. But tonight was at least a step in the right direction—all thanks to a runaway cat.


Filed under Autobiography, Insecurity, Reasons why