Category Archives: Yoga

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 gbhs.org.

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.

“She?”

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

Yoga + cats = CJ, or, my epic 35th birthday party


There are two ways I could tell this story: by pontificating about stress relief and low blood pressure, or by telling you the truth.

OK, there’s some truth to both approaches. But let’s be real:

Birthdays merit celebration, and that’s a mission I take seriously. My expectations are especially high for milestone birthdays. I spent my 30th at a lake house with close friends and my parents, and my 18th at Walt Disney World. (By contrast, I still mourn my 21st, when I was lonely at a summer camp, and my 25th, which is the only birthday on which I worked.) And so the self-imposed pressure was on for 35. I wanted to celebrate with something I would remember.

I posted a challenge on Facebook, crowdsourcing party ideas as any social-media savvy person would. The ideas were all over the place: pajama-and-black-tie party. A 35-mile hike. (If I wasn’t born in July, I could get into that.) A death-match tournament in a bouncy boxing ring, with fighters costumed as superheroes.

But when my friend June chimed in, the answer was obvious:

June “won” herself an invitation to my birthday party.

I’d heard of cat yoga in other cities, usually at shelters. But as much as I love my city, Birmingham isn’t typically on the forefront of these trends. I thought it unlikely that I would find a place that would agree. I soon learned I had underestimated the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

GBHS staff was thrilled by the idea; it turns out, they’d considered cat yoga already. I brought them a focus group (16 of my closest friends) and they provided eight cats.

It was everything I dreamed of.

I grinned as I walked through the room, guiding my friends through a toned-down version of my regular core strength vinyasa classes. Arm balances were out. Cat-snuggle breaks were in. The atmosphere was jubilant, and I was among some of my favorite people, my favorite animal and my favorite physical activity. (At one point, I announced, “You know you’re in a room full of people you feel safe with when you start prancing.” And prance I did.)

There’s no eloquent take-away here. But I have a hard time letting go of not-so-great memories and unmet expectations. These near-perfect moments, however, are something to cling to. I don’t believe perfect exists, but when life comes close, it’s a reminder of how much joy exists.

The prancing begins around the 36-minute mark, if you’re interested.

Join me every Friday at 4 p.m. for core strength vinyasa at The Yoga Circle in Birmingham. Find my complete yoga calendar at carlajeanwhitley.com/calendar.

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Stop, drop and yoga (or sleep)

Yoga doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Recently an AL.com colleague, Social Media Manager Elizabeth Lowder, asked me to Snapchat a few poses for the company’s account. I selected five simple postures with end-of-day relaxation in mind. Enjoy!

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May 1, 2016 · 8:30 pm

Bend, don’t break

Camel for HellaWellaOver the years, I’ve had a few occasions to be interviewed by reporters, and let me tell you: Being on the other side of the notebook will leave you compassionate for your interview subjects. It’s both strange and flattering when someone takes interest in a journalist’s work.

My most recent experience, though, wasn’t focused on my writing: It was all about yoga.

Jennifer Dome King interviewed me about yoga poses that will alleviate pain in various parts of the body, and it was a blast. We met in Birmingham’s Railroad Park for a combined photo shoot and interview, and I love the results! (The camel photo is my favorite. That pose feels blissful to me.) Read all about it at hellawella.com. Thanks, Jen, for reaching out.

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A super simple yoga sequence for relieving workplace discomfort

One of the beautiful things about my job is the freedom to work from home. But I’ll be honest: When I choose that option, I don’t exactly optimize it ergonomically. I’m usually sitting on my couch or in an arm chair, bent over a laptop. My head droops to meet my computer screen, and my shoulders roll forward.

I know better.

A few minutes of yoga can bring my attention back to my posture while working out some of the kinks created by this setup. During a writing frenzy Friday, I stepped away from the computer and onto my mat for a few minutes to address those very issues. This super simple sequence takes three to four minutes and offers significant relief.

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Abandon perfection

Fallen star and the first amendment, just for funsies

Fallen star and the first amendment, just for funsies

As I wound my way through rows of bodies bending and waving through a non-pose called ninja lunges, I reminded 16 yoga students that this shape wasn’t supposed to look like anything in particular. “Perfection is a myth,” I told them. “Seek the stretch and benefit your body craves today.

That’s the deeper truth that calls me back to my yoga mat, day after day. When I’m moving through the postures, I’m acutely aware that today’s crescent lunge isn’t as deep as yesterday’s, or that my tree may not be as stable tomorrow. Yoga stretches my expectations and pulls me away from my normal OCD, to-do list mentality.

And then I quickly return to my type-A, follow-the-rules career. Journalism appealed to me over fiction because the rules are well established and the stories are there for the asking. I love the blend of science (the rules) and art (the telling).

I often let the rules–or a fear of not following them to a T–keep me from taking challenges with the art. Please don’t mistake me, guidelines help us refine and focus. But a story without heart isn’t much of a story at all.

I invite my yoga students into the release of perfection I’ve found. My journalism students, however, need the same freedom.

“Both require a commitment to practice rather than perfection; reward risk-taking rather than hesitation; flourish with timely but limited suggestions that encourage rather than frustrate; are active all-at-once activities that are learned by doing; and remain difficult no matter how long you’ve been doing them.” —Megan Fulwiler, “On Yoga and Teaching Writing,” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education 

It’s not as though I can abandon grading rubrics and expectations, deadlines and AP Style quizzes. Those are requirements of the job for which I’m preparing them, and this is a college class, after all. But as I’ve spent more time practicing yoga, my desire to share its benefits with other writers has grown. These aspiring journalists, especially, crave encouragement and guidance. Even while I cover their work with red ink, I hope I can bring some of my yoga practice to the page.

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“Balancing Act: Yoga Essays” is now available for purchase

IMG_6503Writing has always been my passion, and in yoga I’ve found a perfect counterbalance. It takes me out of the rat race of my mind and the to-do lists that so often dictate my days. Yoga also addresses many of the physical issues common among those of us who spend hours each day hunched over a computer. I suspect my yoga practice will continue to influence my career for decades to come.

It’s natural, then, that I’ve documented my yoga journey through the written word. Those columns are now available as an ebook, “Balancing Act: Yoga Essays.” This short collection traces my journey from yoga newbie to yoga teacher. It’s available for virtually all ebook platforms for $2.99 through Smashwords.com, and will soon roll out to other retailers as well.

I’m excited to share this with you. The journey has only just begun.

FAQs (or what I imagine would be FAQs if I didn’t go ahead and answer them)

Q: How long is the book? 

A: It’s 9,060 words, or 54 pages on my Kobo Mini. Your ereader will likely be different.

Q: Will it work on my Kindle?

A: Yes, there’s an option for that (download the mobi version of the file). The book will not be available through Amazon, but it is totally Kindle compatible.

Q: Why did you decide to publish an ebook?

A: Well, why not? The publishing industry is rapidly changing–I’m sure that’s not news to you–and this project allowed me to familiarize myself with another aspect of the industry.

Q: Did you pay Smashwords to do this? Was it hard? Did it take a long time?

A: No, Smashwords’ deal is they get a percentage of all sales. (The division is favored heavily toward the author, in case you wondered.) Since I had already written each of these essays, all I had to do was format the document per Smashwords’ stipulations and design a cover. That took about three hours, all told.

Q: So wait a second–this is stuff that has already been published as blog entries. Can’t I read these essays free on your website?

A: Of course you can. They’re not going anywhere. This is merely another option if you prefer ebooks or to read these as a collection, rather than interspersed through a great many other entries here.

Q: Can I get a coupon?

A: Actually, yes. Through Jan. 1, sign up for either of my enewsletters and you’ll receive a coupon code for 33 percent off the ebook. You can sign up for the books newsletter here, and the yoga newsletter here.

Q: Can I get a coupon for “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music” instead?

A: I’m sorry, but no. That’s determined by my publisher and individual retailers.

Q: Well, is it at least available as an ebook?

A: Yes indeed! You can buy it from your ebook retailer of choice.

Q: Roll tide?

A: Roll tide. And go Seminoles.

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“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Sacred Glow Yoga's class of 2014

Sacred Glow Yoga’s class of 2014

On Nov. 16, I graduated from Sacred Glow Yoga’s 200-hour teacher training program. I’m now a certified yoga teacher, registered with Yoga Alliance and excited to help you find your way on your mat! The nine-month-long training includes writing a number of papers, which I’ve posted here because, well, that’s what I do. The final writing assignment was to reflect on the experience as a whole. 

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I don’t know how to reflect on the nine-month period that has encapsulated yoga teacher training. My head spins when I try to recall the amount of information we’ve covered in these 200 hours, as well as the knowledge imparted from assigned reading and practice teaching. And of course, daily life has continued throughout this training.

That’s probably the most significant thing I’m taking from this experience: deeper knowledge of how my time on the mat affects everything else in life. I’ve learned how much I struggle with discipline as I try to build a regular home practice, and I see that pop up as well when I’m faced with a task that I’m less than enthused by. I’ve finally learned what the SI joint and sacrum are, and I now find myself regularly moving through not only a lengthening axial wave, but also a Y wave to relieve stress on those areas. I have a better understanding of my body (and the tight hamstrings that limit me so!), and through that I’m better able to offer others grace in their practices.

I’ve worked for years to establish boundaries, saying no when I need to and recognizing how much energy I have to offer other people and obligations. But this training has also helped me in saying yes. I’ve been challenged to recognize my strengths, and to define myself by those rather than my weaknesses. I am capable of so many things, and there’s nothing to be gained in denying that.

But most of all, I’ve realized how much I still have to learn. Whether it’s chakras or anatomy, developing a deeper understanding of yoga has introduced me to concepts and knowledge that I don’t always find easy to grasp. As I begin to live out these lessons as a teacher and guide others through them, I hope to continue reading, studying and increasing my understanding of this physical, spiritual, mental practice that has had such an effect on my daily life.

The journey has only just begun.

Join me for the next step Sunday, when I’ll lead a free, public class at Lululemon. The hour-long class begins at 6 p.m.

Today’s subject line comes from the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver … which I found by googling yoga poems. Of course.

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Experience is the best teacher

My teacher Melissa Scott and I in crow. (Yes, I'm wearing a pencil skirt.)

My teacher Melissa Scott and I in crow. (Yes, I’m wearing a pencil skirt.) (Photo credit: Lynn Whitley)

Experience may be the best teacher, but it’s also helpful to have constructive feedback from people around you. That’s what I found after teaching my first yoga class last week, and I aimed to implement that insight when I taught my second class earlier today.

Both classes were 60 minutes long, and I designed both to peak in a challenging pose. Last week, I spent four hours driving alone the day before I taught. I used most of that time to talk through the next day’s class, and I found it prepared me for teaching both because I knew the sequence and I had a sense of time tied to the music.

This weekend was busier, though, and I didn’t have quite as much time to do that. I was concerned that I’d have to refer to my notes mid-class, or that I’d otherwise lead my trusting students through an awkward, disjointed series of poses.

That didn’t happen. Perhaps it was because I reviewed the class in my mind as I went to sleep last night, or maybe it was because I slowed down and didn’t try to fit as many poses into a one-hour class. But I think the biggest factor was that I had taught once before, and so I was at least slightly more comfortable going into the afternoon.

As was the case with my first class, today’s students included beginners, a first-timer and a couple of people who are pretty familiar with yoga. On the advice of one of last week’s beginners, I spent more time breaking down poses, particularly those that we returned to often. After talking with him last week, I noticed that the classes I attend regularly also do this. Even though I’ve practiced yoga regularly for three years and have dived in more deeply in 2014, I welcome these moments of instruction. Sometimes a verbal cue will make something click with me, but regardless it’s a chance for me to settle into the pose and explore. I didn’t pressure myself to say everything quickly or smoothly, but instead tried to give those gathered an understanding of what we were doing and why.

Today’s sequence was still challenging, and it peaked in crow (during Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird”–yes, that was intentional). It was rewarding to see students trying something a bit risky, and it was just as satisfying to see others take ownership of the class and recognize when a particular moment would have involved pushing themselves too far.

Yoga helps calm me down, pulling me out of the rat race of my mind. I don’t want to teach a class that’s going to push a student back into that litany of to dos and concerns about how they can be better. Yes, the poses have ideal shapes. But we are also individuals on unique paths. Your triangle may not look like my triangle. I may never again reach a full split. But the baby steps along the way challenge and stretch us, and that’s enough.

Here’s this week’s playlist (with covers substituted when the version I played isn’t available on Spotify). If you’d like to sign up for my email list to be kept informed of future classes, you’ll find that form here.

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I hope we can all live more fearlessly

Yoga teacher training involves a lot of confrontation within a safe, supportive environment. As we’ve read through a variety of books, responded to those with reaction papers and verbally processed the lessons we’re learning on and off our mats, the members of my trainee tribe have opened up to one another. We provide grace when an individual struggles to offer it to him or herself.

But that’s not the environment we’ll teach in. Most yoga classes I’ve attended have been warm and welcoming, but I know I won’t often walk into a room full of people who already know my idiosyncrasies and care for me anyway. It’s just as likely that I’ll encounter students who have never taken a yoga class before, and that they’ll be side by side with those who are plenty comfortable moving through sun salutations with little direction.

Our homework before the next training weekend was to teach two 60-minute classes. That’s a fairly open-ended assignment; we could teach each other, or we could teach a class of only one person. (Our instructor specified, though, that our student must be human. No cat yoga for the purposes of this assignment!) I decided to challenge myself by inviting any of my friends to attend these two classes. I’ve also got a number of friends who have expressed interest in trying yoga, and so offering a free class is a way to invite them to try the practice I so love.

That’s how I found myself in front of a motley crew of yogis yesterday afternoon. The class included a couple of people who have practiced before and a couple who had very little experience with yoga, plus a young child. (He brought a book in case he got bored. That’s my kind of kid!)

I spent the days prior to this class determining what I wanted to include, considering modifications for some of the more challenging poses and building a playlist that would help me gauge time. I ran through the class mentally several times, and practiced it myself before the students arrived. As a result, I was comfortable making some adjustments as I went, removing a particularly challenging pose and substituting something more restorative.

Teaching a group that’s not training to be yoga teachers also brought other issues to my attention. If I teach a predominantly beginner class, I might want to break poses down in even more detail. Little things that I’m accustomed to, such as whether the tops of your feet should be flat on the ground or your toes should be curled under, become challenges for those who haven’t seen upward facing dog before.

I’ve got plenty to learn, of course, and I’m grateful for the friends who helped me process these lessons yesterday. I’m still listening to my yoga class playlist and reflecting on how much fun that first experience was! You can find a modified version of the playlist on Spotify; Atoms for Peace and The Beatles aren’t available through that format, so later I’ll add an iTunes playlist where you can buy each of these songs. The class was a heart-opening sequence that peaked in camel pose, and I tried to reflect that in my song choice, at times through the music and at others based on lyrics.

Join me for another round on 2 p.m. Sunday at Desert Island Supply Co. Can’t make it this week, but want to stay up to date on future classes? Sign up for my yoga mailing list.

 

Today’s subject line is from the Dixie Chicks’ “I Hope,” which appears on their 2006 album “Taking the Long Way.” It’s still my favorite.

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