Travel on Trial: How I found zen in the pen with lemur yoga in the Lake District

Charlotte Johnstone
Tamsin and Charlotte were surrounded by lemurs as they practised their sun salutations - ©2019 Charlotte Graham- CAG Photography

When one’s eyes are closed, other senses prickle to attention. I could smell the young green shoots of spring, hear sulky drips of rainwater as they fell from branches above, and feel damp air on my skin. I could also feel something rest its small cold hand on my knee before launching its catlike body on to one of my crossed legs – and hear a stifled giggle to the right of me. I opened one eye. My sister, Tamsin, was surrounded by ring-tailed lemurs, and several of them were obsessively licking her shoes. 

We were sitting in the Lake District Wildlife Park’s lemur enclosure, deep in the latest wellness craze: lemoga. If you’ve heard of doga (dog yoga) and goga (goat yoga), you’ll probably guess that lemoga is yoga with lemurs. They say you should never work with children or animals, and I must admit I was a bit dubious about this. Would the lemurs be doing yoga with us? Or would they be sitting in the tree thinking “what are those weird humans doing in our pen”?

tot Anna Viell, TV editor, Cologne, Germany

The experience was really one of a kind. The lemurs are so calming and friendly, which made me feel so relaxed afterwards

The air was thick with the promise of more rain, but that didn’t deter the animals, or us, as we slowly tried to manoeuvre around our mats at the gentle behest of our yoga instructor, Rebecca, and under the supervision of head keeper Vicky. The hour-long sessions (always private for up to four people) mainly consist of mat work and breathing exercises, to protect the animals from any stray limbs or accidental falls. A short safety briefing had assured us that, as long as we didn’t squeeze the lemurs or make any sudden moves, they would be friendly.

“Have you been to the beach recently?” Vicky asked us as more of the curious critters came over to join this bizarre “shoe-polishing” behaviour. “They love the sea salt,” she smiled. 

Tamsin and Charlotte were surrounded by lemurs as they practised their sun salutations Credit: ©2019 Charlotte Graham- CAG Photography/Charlotte Graham

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A momentary glimpse of sun caused the 11-strong troop to abandon their salty snack and appear as if in the Lotus Position, an upright pose with hands resting on knees, and bellies facing the sun. Tamsin and I quickly followed suit. Apparently this pose, known as “sunning”, inspired luxury Lake District hotel Armathwaite Hall Hotel & Spa and the park, which are under the same ownership, to start this wellness venture, aiming to connect people with nature and raise money (10 per cent of the price of all lemur encounters at the park is donated to Seed Madagascar).

Two big orange eyes looked up at me as I moved into Child’s Pose. I thought of King Julien (“I like to move it, move it”) in Madagascar, and felt sorrow at what is happening to the lemur population on the real island. Madagascar is the only place you will find lemurs in the wild and, although there are more than 100 species, it’s thought they will be the first primates to become extinct because of climate change and deforestation.

tot Eva Green, author, London

I had the most relaxing, fun and slightly surreal experience. The lemurs were so sweet and friendly, perhaps a little too much so at one point when one licked my toes, and I loved their company so much it was hard to leave when the session ended

As Rebecca continued to guide us through some moderate poses, our furry friends freely roamed – next to us, in front of us, on us – and their gentle curiosity was therapeutic. Gloria, the head girl of the group (lemur troops are female-dominated) and mother to an unbelievably cute baby, had befriended Tamsin. Something about being in their space engendered mindfulness: as soon as I walked into that enclosure, I immediately felt calm.

Despite worrying about whether Goggles, my new buddy, was going to relieve herself on my back as I traversed from Downward Dog into Sphinx Pose, I felt an appreciation for the direct physical contact, like that feeling you get when you’ve been on your own for a few days and someone hugs you.

Armathwaite Hall Hotel & Spa offers an award-winning spa, outdoor infinity pool and fine dining, all in the setting of a historic country house

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Such is the Cumbrian weather that we had to conclude our session early. In the event of inclement weather, participants will still get to interact with the lemurs in their enclosure and the yoga sessions will take place in a studio up at the hotel. The mere encounters are stress-busting. As Vicky says: “You can be having a really bad day but you’ll see one of them doing something really silly and it’ll completely cheer you up.”

Lemoga package from £495 for two people sharing a double/twin room; includes a three-course dinner in the Courtyard Bar and Brasserie, full Cumbrian breakfast for two, use of spa facilities, a 55-minute treatment each, Lemoga session and entrance to the Lake District Wildlife Park at either 10.30am or 3.30pm.

Read the full review: Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa, Lake District