I’ve got several feline friends. Four of them were born in our back yard and officially adopted me as their favorite restaurateur and cat masseur. Another four come to visit on a regular basis especially when they feel like a change in their cuisine or when their human friends forget to leave enough food for them. I have been watching these fascinating creatures for years. They never cease to amaze me. Cats are natural yogis and there is much we can learn from them. For example:
- Hygiene – Cats take their personal hygiene very seriously. They keep themselves very clean. Their ablution rituals are done methodically and energetically on a regular basis. They don’t stop until the job is done. Cats also have admirable toilet habits, digging and covering after.
- Exercise – Cats don’t like to over strain themselves but they do like to stay active. They are in tune with their bodies and are naturally aware of the fact that in order to stay healthy they need to keep their energy flowing without over taxing. Their favourite form of exercise is what fitness experts call High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This form of exercise consists of short bursts of high intensity activity followed by rest. Research has shown that this can boost the body’s production of growth hormone (GH), helping to maintain muscle tone and preventing muscle loss and atrophy that may occur with aging. Cats have several ways for taking part in HIIT. One way is to practice feline martial arts. They love to engage in a friendly fight with other cats in the yard. Another type of feline HIIT is hunting. Cats are natural hunters. They chase any unfortunate creature that happen to land in the back yard – birds, mice, lizards, butterflies. Anything that moves. They also invent all sorts of games that help keep them fit. One of our cats Ginger often comes back from his nocturnal walk-abouts with a disposable plastic cup he has found somewhere. He then rolls the cup back and forth in the yard making a racket, usually around 2 o’clock in the morning….
- Stretching – Cats are naturally aware of the fact that in order to keep their energy or Qi flowing in the meridians, they need to stretch on a regular basis. The main focus of their stretching exercises are spinal stretches. They do the cat pose (Marjaryasana) and sometimes also the upper dog pose! (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) Often they simply role on the ground extending their limbs and in this way relieve Qi and blood stagnation from their joints and this helps keep the joints healthy and prevent arthritis.
- Using their senses – Cats use their senses continuously. They get the information they need directly from their senses. They look, smell, taste, listen, touch in order to decide whether a particular food is good for them, or if they can drink the water, or if another cat is a friend or a foe. There is not much intellectual noise happening up in their brains that may distort their direct perception of reality . In this respect they are living much closer to the truth than most humans.
- Using their intuition – The term dumb animals is a dumb term. Any cat owner will tell you that cats are very clever. A large part of their cleverness can be attributed to their use of intuition. They usually listen to that little inner voice. For example they always know when we want to take them to the vet so they simply disappear.
- Relaxing whenever possible – Cats are natural relaxation masters. Their relaxation is complete – both physiological and mental. When they are not looking for food, eating, playing, fighting with other cats, chasing or being chased, they immediately get into a comfortable position and switch off. They relax their whole body. Their muscles become completely soft and virtually melt into the ground. They spread on the ground and earth themselves fully. They allow their parasympathetic nervous system to activate and their body then goes into a maintenance and repair mode.
- Meditating on a daily basis – Sometimes I see cats just sitting outside apparently doing nothing but also not in their normal relaxation pose. Rather, just sitting there on their bottom part, head and neck up, eyes open. Not looking at anything in particular but also not moving. They can spend anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes in this position. I call this “cat mindfulness meditation” because it seems that they are being very relaxed but at the same time alert and mindful of sounds and smells perhaps even those coming from a great distance. They seem to be fully concentrated and immersed in the stream of information flowing through their senses.Their sensory picture is probably much richer and more detailed than humans’, sensing many sounds and scents that are too subtle for us to pick up with our relatively dull and underutilized senses.
- Responsiveness – Even when they relax or meditate cats maintain a high state of vigilance, as evidenced by the fact that they react instantly to any change in the situation. One of the frequent visitors to our back yard is a cat I call Checkers. He looks like a well nourished rather large black and white fur ball. He is big on energy conservation, spending hours in the mindfulness meditation pose. But his looks can be deceiving because he is quick and agile and reacts with lightning speed. A few months ago he was in his mindfulness meditation pose when a poor bird landed about six feet from him. Without flinching Checkers pounced on the poor creature. The bird didn’t know what hit her. At least she did not suffer because it all happened so quickly. Cats’ ability to react and respond to their environment so quickly is due to their ability to maintain a state of relaxed vigilance.
So in summary, there is much we can learn from these fascinating creatures that will help us become better Yoga practitioners, or just BE in general.