“We don’t say the ‘D word’ here,” our instructor said. “Just for tonight, let’s all get into downward-facing cat.”
The yoga pose wasn’t one I was comfortable in, but then again, so much about yoga makes me uncomfortable — the clothes, the breathy pseudo-spirituality, the jargon, the way it always points out just how weak my body is. So, why on earth was I taking a class voluntarily? Why had I paid $20 to do something that makes me feel so awkward?
That’s easy. There were cats there that needed petting, and I’m hecka good at that.
My friend Debbie, a fellow feline aficionado, told me about the class at this place called Good Mews and asked if I would like to go with her. Naturally, I said yes. Roughly once a month, this shelter charges folks of all shapes and sizes to attend an evening yoga class in the adult cat room. While you hold (or in my case attempt to hold) various poses — most of them down on the floor — a clowder of furry participants roam around you. And the cash you plunk down? All of it is donated to the facility.
During the hour-long class, some cats watch from one of the many perches in the room. Others explore bags, sit on laps, and basically make themselves at home everywhere, which is pretty much what they do anyway. The only rule of kitty yoga is that you can’t move a four-legged participant. If one wants to sit on your mat, you do the pose around him or her. If one decides your back or stomach looks like a nice bed, you’re stuck until he or she wants to get up. The room is dark, mellow, and full of purrs.
After a stressful day at work and at home, it was just the thing I needed. Though I didn’t perfectly execute a single pose and couldn’t hold any of them as long as other people in the class, I wasn’t embarrassed. I wasn’t anxious about being there. I felt calmer, more centered, and less frazzled. Maybe it was child’s pose; maybe it was the fluffy orange fellow who kept giving me head bonks. Either way, it worked.
It’s been proven that activities such as Pilates, yoga, and aquatic-based exercise help relieve many symptoms of multiple sclerosis, including depression and fatigue. I’ve never practiced it regularly, but according to research, doing yoga three times a week can have a positive influence on MS patients, both physically and mentally. So, while it may not be comfortable or familiar, it is certainly worth looking into. If you’re like me and don’t relish making a fool of yourself in public, don’t worry. There are dozens of YouTube videos and DVDs to buy so you can strike a pose in the privacy of your own home. (And if you have cats there as well, so much the better!)
Often, a yoga class will begin and end with students putting their hands together in front of their hearts and saying the word “namaste,” which roughly translates to, “The divine spark in me recognizes the divine spark in you.” (At Good Mews, however, the word was “meowmaste.”) I don’t go in for things like chakras, karma, or dharma; my goal in this life is not to achieve oneness within myself, but to serve my heavenly Father and be sanctified by him. However, I do like the idea of each of us having a divine, unique spark — something God has placed within us that sets us apart from all His other created things. That’s why something like kitty yoga is good to take a crack at; life’s too short not to do it.
Sure, it’s unconventional. Some people might say it’s downright weird. All I know is that it worked for me and my quirky divine spark, and I can’t wait to try it again.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.