Sunflower Mandala

Sleep Fat, Walk Thin

Cats do it, so can we

 

Cats are born yogis. Acrobatic and agile, they can gracefully and gleefully eclipse the dazzling moves of a seasoned vinyasa practitioner. Restorative yoga? Cats invented it. Savasana?  Cats live it.

To me, what is more impressive than the cat’s innate physical yogic talent is her curly-clawed grasp of the importance of deep relaxation, a key benefit of yoga practice.  Kitty is the master of pure, peaceful, bony-heavy rest. Unlike many of her two-legged friends, the cat does not need planning, preparation, or convincing to settle down and relax. The four-legged yogi shifts from bristling activity to total stillness in mere minutes, maybe with a bit of kneading foreplay to set the mood. Instant Maui.

Cats “jump in a streak” and “walk thin,” wrote American poet Rosalie Moore in her poem Catalogue, but 

Cats sleep fat.

They spread out comfort underneath them 

Like a good mat . . . 

I frequently share an excerpt from Moore’s poem at the beginning of class as a reminder that our bodies and minds benefit from the balance of movement and stillness. We regularly hear about the importance of physical fitness, but the benefits of mental stillness are not as widely touted. Studies have suggested that yoga, particularly the practice’s breathing, meditative, and restorative aspects, can help support our emotional well-being in many ways: 

Unlike humans, cats are naturally skilled at remaining present, or “in the moment,” an important tool for mental health. Recently, I was talking on the phone with my sweet cat Selene dozing nearby. As I chatted, I gently stroked Selene’s silky tail between my fingers. In conversation, I began recounting the details of a minor car accident I’d had the previous day. (Memo to self: shift to lower gear when driving down Leewood Drive in a snowstorm.) The fear I felt during the event fresh in my mind, I unknowingly tensed my body. A loud hiss from Selene, followed by a sharp-toothed nip, brought me back to the moment.

Inadvertently, I realized, my soft touch on Selene’s tail had hardened to a pinch while I was in the grip of anxiety. I looked sheepishly at Selene, expecting an accusatory scowl, but was met with the face of serenity.  Selene did not haughtily rescind her tail or move away. She had shifted from “fight or flight” to “lie down and light” with flip-a-switch ease, while I, although safe in my armchair, was physically and emotionally reliving my slippery slide down a busy snowy street.

Being only human after all, my instincts and abilities are very different from Selene’s. But through a yoga practice that soothes body, breath, and mind, I continually work to overcome my innate two-legged foolishness. On my yoga mat, I can sleep fat, spread out the comfort, and bask in it. 



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