You don’t need to take a course to master mindfulness – let your feline friend be your teacher!
Mindfulness is not a new fad. It was first introduced to the world hundreds of years ago and is a practice attributed to Buddhism. According to the Foundation for a Mindful Society, it’s defined as “being fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us”. While you can read books or take courses on mindfulness, you don’t have to if you’re a cat parent – just study and imitate your kitty! Cats are fully present in life, very aware of what’s going on around them, and (under normal circumstances) maintain an enviable degree of peace and calm. Read on for six tips on mastering “cat-mindfulness”.
1. Be present
Look at your cat when she’s sitting quietly, staring into space, and you’ll soon feel a similar sense of serenity. Even when cats have their eyes closed, they are fully present, ears pivoting around like radars as they listen to sounds in the environment. There is no denying that cats live in the moment, listening, breathing, and staying aware of the here and now. These experiences coincide with the practice of mindfulness. In fact, veterinarian Dr. Nancy Scanlan told the New York Times that cats make it easy to be mindful.
2. Do nothing
One of the obvious ways cats make it easy is to be mindful is when they seemingly do nothing. They sit in silence, eyes closed, enjoying the moment. Many of us consider doing nothing as a waste of time, but it’s a practice of mindfulness that allows us to take a mental break. Psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson has shown that successful people operate with brief bursts of productivity followed by a pause. This pause is referred to as unstructured downtime, which in effect rebuilds productivity sources so you get going again.
3. Close your eyes.
When your kitty’s eyes are closed, whether she’s drifting off to sleep or just “being”, she’s in a mindful state. How often do you take a break to close your eyes during the day, without the intention of falling asleep? Even if you just lightly shut your eyes (as your cat does when her lids are half closed but her eyes still follow you around the room), this is a good practice. According to Dr. Robert Nash of the University of Surrey in the UK, just closing your eyes for a few minutes blocks distractions, heightens your concentration, and helps build better memory skills.
4. Just breathe
Breathing is an important key to being mindful. Watch your kitty breathe, then focus on your own breathing. Feel the air enter your body as you inhale, and then release it naturally. Take a couple of deeper breaths, and focus solely on the act of breathing. Scientists at Northwestern Medicine discovered that when we breathe in, it goes straight to the part of our brain where our memories and emotions are stored, enhancing emotional judgments and memory recall. Breathing deeply and mindfully helps soothe the nervous system.
5. Don’t multi-task
Watch your cat as you pull a piece of string across the floor. Her attention is undivided as she concentrates on the string. Meanwhile, as you’re pulling the string, you’re probably also “multi-tasking” – keeping an eye on your phone, thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, or trying to watch TV. Sharon Salzberg, an author and teacher of Buddhist meditation practices in the West, says we should try and concentrate solely on the task at hand instead of multi-tasking, a behavior that propels us into anxiety.
6. Be happy
When your cat is happy, she’s not shy about showing it. Just crack open a tin of food and suddenly she’s darting in and out of your feet, joyfully purring and meowing. Even during quieter times when she’s on your lap, you can hear and feel the vibrations of her blissful purring. When a happy moment occurs in our own lives, we tend to downplay it or stifle our feelings. Why not take a moment to experience the joy, to think it, breathe it and feel it? We are happiest when we are mindful of the moment.
Our feline friends are fine examples of mindful teachers. Take your inspiration from your own kitty and develop the gift of “cat-mindfulness” for yourself. You’ll enjoy the well-being that comes from lower stress levels, better moods, and an improved quality of life.
Nadia Ali is a freelance writer who was born in London, England and now lives on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. She is inspired by Cici, her family cat. Her work has been published online and in print.