Flashback: Lessons in Yoga from Cats

I wrote this post over 10 years ago. Now we have different cats and we miss the ones that have gone on. One of our current furry housemates, Astrid, screamed at us all for 10 minutes last night because she needed us to see the prey she had caught (it was an old cat collar and when I say scream, I mean YOWL). Today’s cats – Sophie and Astrid, are not the same as Charlie and Rudy, but the lessons they teach remain. Being home with them 24/7 is really reminding me of how much yoga I can learn from them.

You just never know where your next yoga inspiration will come from.  Beings you never expect can turn out to be impressive yogis with much to teach.  Let me introduce you to two:  Charlie and Rudy.

I’ve learned many things about the practice of yoga from Charlie and Rudy, and I would like to share a few of them with you.

Focus – Charlie and Rudy have an amazing ability to focus, both in terms of the visual and their goals. They have their drishti DOWN!  Rudy can stare at a leaf in the yard for hours on end.  He never looks away and is not distracted by others entering or leaving the room.  He gazes, and breathes.  Do not try to play stare down with him. You will not win.  They can also focus on a goal with complete persistence.  Charlie will spend a full afternoon following a bug.  Whither the bug goes, she will go – regardless of difficulty (for self or others).  If Rudy wants someone to get out of bed and pet him, he will pursue that goal with the focus and drive of a world class athlete, meowing for hours on end if necessary.  All that is important in that time is the focus; they are fully able to…

Be in the moment – While they both can certainly work toward a goal, even so, they remain in the moment.  They do not let the past constrain their present.  They do not let worry or fear of the future impact the now.  If Charlie wants to stand on top of my work bag, does she fear, based on the past, that I will become annoyed?  No, she does not.  If Rudy would like to chew some baby’s breath in a flower arrangement, does he fret that it will make him vomit as it has approximately 43 times before?  I assure you that he doesn’t.  Worrying about the past or the future is not useful to them, and therefore they do not do it, which leads us to…

Let go of that which does not serve you – Charlie and Rudy are fully able to release what is not useful for them.  Rules about where to sit, or lay, or what to eat do not serve them, so they let go.  Hairballs do not serve them, so they let go.  Sometimes going to another room, or even another floor of the house, to pee does not serve them, so they let go of what they are doing and go after whoever it is.  Their letting go even extends to their willingness to give of themselves…

Give a little of yourself to everyone you encounter – Yes, indeed, my cats are experts in this arena.  In each encounter, they hope to leave a little piece of themselves.  They do it so willingly, and so generously, that most everyone who comes into contact with them will walk away able to spread that little bit of them to other encounters.  Sometimes it’s a scratch; sometimes it’s drool;  but, most often it is the very hair of their bodies that they give with such abandon.  They make every effort to go beyond their physical limits with their selves…

Expand your reach and your flexibility – The asanas of yoga allow us to develop our reach and our flexibility, and my cats are truly inspirational in their devotion to the practice.  Stretching can occur at any moment of the day, in any location.  Charlie can often be found stretching over my keyboard or on top of the arm I am trying to write with.  Rudy stretches out across a bed, on the cat tree, over a window ledge.  Sometimes it’s a long and slow stretch, and sometimes it’s a quick stretch as they prepare for more movement.  They do not let little things like people’s legs get in the way of their stretching. Nor do they worry about the new furniture when they feel the urge to stretch up, up toward the sky, with legs and paws and claws fully extended, for a deep, luxurious, pleather destroying stretch.  And talk about flexible!  Can you see what you are doing when you clean your tail?  I think not.  Enough said.  While they certainly stretch and move, they are also not afraid to slow down…

Take rest – Charlie and Rudy understand that rest should be taken when the body and mind need it.  If rest is needed while you are in the kitchen, take it.  If rest is needed while you are in the bathroom, go right ahead.  If rest is needed while you are stepping over a loaf of bread laying on the counter, you should lay right down.  Middle of the doorway to the stairs?  Right on.  It doesn’t matter when or how long, either.  If you get up and still feel tired, lay back down.  If a day passes and you’ve done little but rest, Charlie and Rudy want you to know that it is perfectly ok.  There is no shame in resting.  In fact, be proud of your resting ability!

Yes, it is true.  My cats are yogis and I suspect that most others are too.  They are wise and experienced in the ways of the middle path and much can be learned from simply being in their lives.  We should all be honored that they grace us with their presence.



It’s Not You, It’s Your Body – What Some Yoga Teachers Won’t Tell You

When I first started to do yoga, using CDs that I purchased on Amazon.com, I remember seeing headstand and thinking, I will NEVER be able to do that. And then I kept going, and I went to yoga classes, and I heard/read that if I kept practicing, any yoga pose was possible. And within a year, I was doing headstand. It was true!

Fast forward 15 years and I still cannot do Utthita Parsva Hastasana (among a myriad of other poses) with a straight leg, like this:

Image from Yoga Journal

Is it because I haven’t tried? Because I’m lazy? I didn’t practice enough? Nope. It’s anatomy. Think about all of the parts of the body involved in this pose. In terms of musculature, we have all of this:

Image from Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff

And, that doesn’t even include the bone and joint activity involved in the hip! Yoga poses often include stretching of muscles, but they also include compression. Stretching can be gradually and slowly impacted with regular practice, but compression (or bone on bone movement) will not change without serious injury. This article, by Esther Ekhart, does a good job of discussing this difference – https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/anatomy/tension-versus-compression-in-yoga.

While regular practice of this pose gets me closer, I have generally accepted that my body is probably not going to do this without creating a whole new set of problems. The literal shape of my femur bone may be what makes this pose so challenging and that I cannot change. Check out some of the bone images from Paul Grilley at http://paulgrilley.com/bone-photos/ and you’ll see what I mean.

Similarly, you’ve probably seen some people who can easily fold forward and touch the floor and others who just cannot. Many things are involved there, but one of them is the literal length of the bones in arms and legs. You cannot change that. It’s just how your body is made.

If you are in class with a good yoga teacher, you will hear things like “don’t push past your limits,” and “your pose doesn’t have to look like someone else’s.” Your instructor might adjust you for safety or alignment, but it will be in small amounts and the teacher will never push you into a pose. If your teacher is insisting that everyone should look the same and that anyone can do X, that might not be the right teacher for you. If it’s not the teacher, but your brain, it’s time to let that go. If a pose feels stretchy in a good way, go for it. If it hurts, stop. Don’t force your body into pain. That’s not yoga, it’s just pain, and it’s certainly not ahimsa.

It’s your practice. It’s yours and yours alone. Don’t do anyone else’s or try to be anyone else. You don’t need a “yoga body.” You need the willingness to step onto a mat, come into yourself, and focus on the union of breath, body, and mind, using asana to help you with that. And that’s all you need.


Life Takes Over!

So, dear readers, as you can tell, I have fallen WAY behind. This is a factor of a change in jobs last summer that keeps me even busier (didn’t think it was possible), living away from my family 4+ days a week (so not cooking), and sheer exhaustion.

However, I have been fairly active on Instagram and Twitter, so if you aren’t already following me there, you can (TheVeganAsana on both).

In yoga news, I’m still trying to practice 5-6 days a week, though often for a somewhat shorter time period. I struggled with trying to move my practice to mornings and it wasn’t very successful. RA presents obstacles there. So, it’s evening practice either alone or with an online video. Lately, I’ve been using videos from Fightmaster Yoga, though I’m always happy to hear about your favorites!

In food news, I’m not doing much cooking, but have been mostly eating salads, as that’s an easy meal for just me. But, I will put in a plug for a Philadelphia restaurant that I am loving to visit when I can. If you have not been to The Tasty, and you are a vegan in Philly, you should go!  It’s not the place to drop by if you are looking for a super nutritious meal, but if you want diner style comfort food that is vegan, it rocks. And the coffees are superb.

In life news, I’m using my paper planner (Filofax) as a creative outlet, by combining elements of bullet journaling and planning. Sometimes, I wonder if the pages are a little too cute for using in the office. Other times, I don’t care even a little.   This week, with only part of the Monday stuff added…  If you enjoy planner or bujo layouts, those tend to show up with some frequency on my Instagram feed.

I’m hoping that I can remember to post more, and that my author friend – Emmeline – will also post now and then. But, until next time, namaste!