Last Saturday morning, I arrived at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in east Sarasota with an open heart and open mind, toting my large yoga mat past bathing capybaras (huge rodents from South America) and curious scarlet macaws. Into the tiger’s den I went—literally—to experience the first session of Yoga With Tigers, an intersection of two of my biggest passions, wildlife and fitness.

A collaboration with Sarasota's Pineapple Yoga Studio, the practice was held on a spacious, newly built porch surrounded by tiger enclosures. Shaded by trees and decorated with Tibetan prayer flags, statues and flowers, the space made me feel like I was in a Garden of Eden.

Erika Cain of Pineapple Yoga Studio taught the class, which was designed as a mixture of hatha, vinyasa and meditation-in-motion yoga styles. “Yoga is not just about touching your toes or bending your back, it’s about compassion for all things, and Big Cat Habitat clearly encompasses that,” Cain told the class. 

The tigers were not shy. Throughout nearly every yoga pose an enormous cat watched the yogis from behind, and more than once I found myself looking into the imperious face of a tiger observing our movements.

Although the event is called Yoga With Tigers, other animals are never far from sight. I got to pet Stella, the adorable sloth mascot of the Big Cat Habitat, who was brought in before the practice as a special guest. Brutus, the enormous liger, watched our class as he lounged on his rock. I heard the frequent roaring of a talkative lion, the calls of parrots and even the braying of a donkey. A huge white wolf named Ghost and his pen mate Kingston, a lion, were roughhousing before my eyes like two dogs at a park. I felt like I was in the middle of a heartwarming YouTube video about unusual animal friendships, or maybe a Game of Thrones promotion.  The yoga itself was relaxing, but the atmosphere of Big Cat Habitat was energizing and exciting.

I’ve tried nearly every kind of yoga sensation in the book, from aerial yoga to hot yoga to yoga on the beach, but none have been as uplifting as my yoga session with Big Cat Habitat’s carnivores. The best part of the experience is knowing you are helping an organization that loves its animals and works to share that passion with visitors. Yoga With Tigers brings you in contact with great people, a great cause and great animals. And it is exactly as cool as it sounds.

Yoga With Tigers occurs on the fourth Saturday of the month, from 8:45 to 10:15 a.m. The next session will take place on June 22.  Tickets are $40 and the price includes a single day pass to explore Big Cat Habitat during its normal business hours of 12-4 p.m.. All profits support the facility’s animals and operations.

 You can buy tickets for the next Yoga With Tigers here.

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