MILFORD — In a crowded and dimly lit yoga studio, an instructor asks everyone to breathe deeply and transition into a downward-facing dog — or reach down and pet a kitten, if they prefer.
Jaffrey-based Monadnock Kitty Rescue and Adoption held its fifth annual Cats on Mats fundraiser at Forever Yoga in Milford Friday.
“It’s kind of the best of both worlds: If you like cats and you like yoga, this is the place to be,” said Heidi Bourgeois, shelter manager and board president of the Jaffrey organization.
Monadnock Kitty Rescue and Adoption started in 2002 to care for feral cats in the area, Bourgeois said. The 4,000-square-foot shelter in Jaffrey now houses about 60 cats in its feral sanctuary, along with another 40 or so cats available for adoption.
Five kittens that were dropped off at the shelter on May 4 (and subsequently named after Star Wars characters) pounced on feather toys and skittered between rows of yoga mats to chase down laser pointers.
Between warrior poses, attendees stopped to play with the furry spectators, at the suggestion of instructor and Forever Yoga owner Jessica Lang Wright.
Unlike a typical class that might be focused inward on breath and form, Lang Wright said Cats on Mats is more about having fun and interacting with the kittens.
“One of the great teachings of yoga is that we’re all connected, and we really experience that when we get to do this kind of practice with animals,” Lang Wright said.
As attendees stretched and held their poses, they often burst into laughter as kittens raced around the room and crashed into someone’s leg or backside.
Bourgeois acknowledged that “you can’t really do much ... yoga with kittens hopping around, but people have a lot of fun.”
But the event also serves as a nice introduction for newcomers, she added.
Justin Wright, Lang Wright’s husband, said Friday’s class was split between studio regulars and first-time visitors. Some of those new people told Bourgeois as they left that they came for the cats but enjoyed the yoga and plan to practice again.
Along with introducing people to yoga, Bourgeois said the event raises money and awareness for her organization, which all of the evening’s proceeds benefited.
The Star Wars kittens were also available for adoption, and anyone interested after Friday’s class could contact the shelter for more information.
Kris Knigge and Kelly Nylander traveled from Bedford to attend the class for the second consecutive year. They’ve also attended the bunny yoga class Forever Yoga teaches at Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire in Bedford.
“I like the charity aspect, I like the animal aspect, and I like yoga,” Nylander said. “So it’s a good combo.”
She appreciates the therapeutic qualities of spending time with furry friends, she said, which can be incredibly relaxing.
Knigge agreed, adding that supporting the shelter makes the fun feel important, too.
“It’s great to have a bunch of cute animals running around you while you’re doing yoga — it makes it much more bearable for those who don’t like yoga — but it’s also … cute animals for a cause,” Knigge said.
And the goal, according to Lang Wright, is to carry those feelings into the future.
“It’s easy to find joy when there’s these little kittens running around,” she said, “but can we remember that when we’re passing the person on the street that maybe gives us not such a great look and try to smile at them?”
For more information about Monadnock Kitty Rescue and Adoption, call 532-9444 or go to kittyrescueandadoption.org. The organization is also on Facebook and Instagram.