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Sloth Yoga Is Now a (Terrible) Thing

© Art Soul Photography - Getty Images   In what feels like the exercise equivalent of saying "hold my beer" to goat yoga, organizations in Florida are offering sloth yoga

By Tracy Middleton, Runner’s World

Most evenings I pull my yoga mat out and do a 20- to 60-minute flow before bed. Yoga clears my mind, stretches my always-too-tight hamstrings, and helps with my flexibility—things that make me a better runner. I even have an audience for my downdogs and pigeon poses: six stuffed sloths that sit on a chaise lounge in my bedroom.

Yes, it’s slightly embarrassing to be a grown-ass woman with a collection of soft toys, but they were all gifts from people who know about my obsession with the slow-moving Central American mammal. I’d like to think I jumped on the sloth bandwagon early (the swimming sloth in BBC’s 2016 documentary Planet Earth 2 cemented my love for the animals) but I can’t deny that sloths are everywhere now. Including, it appears, fitness classes.

In what feels like the exercise equivalent of saying “hold my beer” to goat yoga, organizations in Florida are offering sloth yoga, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Several wildlife attractions in the state offer spandex-clad yogis the chance to flow through their poses while rescued sloths hang out nearby. And it’s not just Florida: Sloth yoga is cropping up in California, too. The sloths just literally hang out until the class is done, then people crowd around to touch or hold them and take post-savasana selfies.


The first thing I did when I heard about this was to email the story to my husband with the subject line: “BRB Going to Tampa.” My second was to sign the petition called This Tourist Attraction Is Using These Poor Sloths to Make a Buck (it has almost 30,000 signatures) to shut these classes down. Because, I actually do love sloths.

“These are wild animals that should be understood from a distance, protected, and certainly not cuddled,” reads the petition. “By hosting these absurd events, these tourist attractions are furthering the dangerous notion that sloths exist for human entertainment. Sign the petition and demand that they hold NO MORE sloth yoga events!”

I get it: Sloths are the seemingly ideal poster animal for yoga, particularly slow yoga, which focuses on mindful, centering movements to counteract our fast-paced lives. But there’s no reason so make animals, whether they’re sloths or goats or Spanish bulls, part of your fitness routine. Animals aren’t workout partners or yoga props.

“Sloths don’t like to be touched,” says Rebecca Cliffe, PhD, a Costa Rica-based zoologist who founded the Sloth Conservation Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to saving sloths in the wild. “They might not show it outwardly, but that's because they’re a prey species; in the wild their best reaction to a predator is to sit still and hope [the predator] goes away.” What’s more, studies show that handling sloths can cause them anxiety and alter their blood pressure. Which goes directly against one of the fundamental principles of yoga: ahisma, or not harm.

Even if you’re not touching the animal, it’s been taken out of its usual habitat and transported to a new place. “It’s not torture, but sloths like routine. They like to be in the same area, and changes to the environment are very stressful for them,” Cliffe tells Runner’s World.

Yoga, like running, is a practice that can align your mind and body. But you won’t connect better with yourself, or nature, by having a sloth in the room. If you really want to have an up-close experience with a sloth or any other wild animal, book an encounter at a zoo that’s accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which evaluates facilities to make sure they properly care for the animals in their care (neither of the Florida organizations that offer sloth yoga are AZA-accredited).

As AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe writes, animal encounters at accredited facilities are an important part of conservation. They help people learn more about animals and form emotional connections with them, which makes them want to protect animals and their habitats. Most sloth species aren’t endangered, but they are threatened by deforestation. And as the Sloth Conservation Foundation notes in a recent Facebook post, “In countries like Costa Rica sloths are now being taken out of the wild to be sold into the pet trade or used as photo props for tourist experiences.”

Accredited zoos have animal experts who can determine what’s appropriate based on the animal’s behavior. When I went to a sloth encounter at a local zoo, they made us wait half an hour because their sloth was a bit cranky when he woke up. We were taken into the sloth’s habitat (he wasn’t brought to us) and the zookeepers cut the encounter short when it became clear that the sloth wasn’t into being around people that day.

“There is a fine line between educating the public about the need to conserve this beautiful, enigmatic animal, therefore caring about its habitat, and the exploitation of the animal," says Judy Avey-Arroyo, founder of the Sloth Sanctuary in Cosa Rica. “[Sloth yoga] has definitely crossed that line."

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Bloom Magazine: Sloth Yoga Is Now a (Terrible) Thing
Sloth Yoga Is Now a (Terrible) Thing
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