The magic of meditating with your cat (and a simple how-to)
Series: This is part 3 of a series called Cat time is good for you.
Improved mood, health, creativity, thinking, and hormonal balance.
There’s a simple yet powerful meditation method I learned in my wellness counselor days that has been shown to help with all of the above.
I’d like to share how you can do the meditation with your cat, and why it works best that way!
The meditation is based on a well-researched technique from the Institute of HeartMath. I tweaked their brilliant method slightly to be used with cats. For good reason.
Let me explain…
The research behind this
HeartMath has collaborated with institutions like Stanford University in their research on their meditation technique, which they call Coherence or stress management. (Though HeartMath acknowledges meditators use it, they don’t call it meditation because they want to be clear that it does more than “just” meditation.)
Their research says the technique (which I’ll get to) makes you healthier by creating psychophysiological coherence.
Psychophysiological coherence means what, exactly?
It means that during this meditation your body’s systems–from nervous to cardiovascular–display more synchronization and efficiency, which according to studies across diverse populations results in these benefits:
- improved emotional balance
- improved mood
- improved health and immunity
- improved cognitive performance
- lowered stress hormone (cortisol)
They even report that “improvements in clinical status have been demonstrated in individuals with hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, asthma and AIDS.”
How do they know “coherence” happens during the meditation?
HeartMath measures coherence by measuring the varying time between your heartbeats. This is called heart rate variability.
They found that once your heart rate variability showed coherence, the other systems in your body synchronized into coherence too.
If you had a device like HeartMath’s Emwave (I have an earlier model) you’d discover you have a chaotic heart rate variation when you are frustrated (or distracted) and a coherent rate when you are in a state of appreciation. Like this:
How do cats figure in?
In HeartMath’s simplified technique, which they call Quick Coherence, a key step is to activate a positive feeling by thinking of a special place, person, or animal friend. It has to be someone or something you don’t have mixed feelings about.
Turns out it’s even easier to bask in the presence of your real cat than think about the idea of your cat.
My sense is that many people fall into the coherence state naturally with their cats. I think this is one reason for many of those health benefits cat companionship gives us.
However, starting with the HeartMath-inspired steps works better than just hoping the effect happens naturally, so here we go…
This is my cat-adaptation of HeartMath’s Quick Coherence model. HeartMath says even one minute of their technique can benefit you, so don’t hesitate to try this!
- Sitting with your relaxed and content cat, focus on your heart while breathing. It can help to imagine you are breathing through your heart area.
- For a few moments, start breathing in for a slow count of 5, and then out for for slow count of 5.
- While still breathing through your heart space, stop focusing on counting and start focusing on your feline friend. Just “be with” your cat. You may gaze at them, pet them, or just close your eyes and be with their presence–whatever feels natural.
Believe it or not, that last step is the most important step!
That’s because HeartMath discovered that the activating-of-positive-emotions step is what makes the coherence happen and continue naturally, without requiring you to continue to mentally focus on your breathing rhythm.
They say this step also adds “increased access to intuition and creativity, cognitive and performance improvements, and favorable changes in hormonal balance.”
The breathing gets you started, but then quietly enjoying being with your feline friend keeps you in psychophysiological coherence.
To break it down, here is what’s happening:
Quietly appreciating your cat’s presence -> leads to Heart rhythm coherence -> leads to Breathing rhythm synchronizes with heart -> leads to multiple systems in your body fall into coherence –> leading to: Lowered stress hormone, improved emotional balance, improved mood, improved health and immunity, improved cognitive performance and creativity
Again, this is based on HeartMath’s research data on how we get into biological coherence and how that affects us.
My cat meditation “biofeedback” test
While I was preparing to write this article, I used my heart-rate-coherence measuring device (HeartMath’s Emwave) to test myself while I practiced the above meditation with our two cats.
Sure enough, it let me know that I was in the coherence state while doing the simple practice with my cats.
Interestingly, when I started thinking things like, “I wonder how to change the batteries in that thing? I wonder how I’m going to explain all this on the blog,” the Emwave sounded cues to tell me I just lost my beautiful coherence state!
What did I learn there? I learned that when you practice this with your cats, the key is to stay present to them, and just rest in that presence.
Have you ever noticed your breathing aligned with your cat’s breathing?
On a related note, I recall being surprised when I first noticed that, while relaxing with my cat, I could see that my breathing had unconsciously synchronized with his breathing.
If you haven’t noticed this before, check it out sometime: When relaxing, watch the rise and fall of your cat’s breathing and see if you aren’t breathing in and out at the same time without even trying.
I suspect that when we see that breathing synchronization we have entered the meditative coherence state. We might use that as a natural biofeedback indicator.
I think you are spot on with the above. I find myself, whenever I have the cat on my chest/shoulder/arm, that I assimilate their breathing pattern. I haven’t tried to meditate directly as you suggest but I do notice that when I am meditating on my own, the cats will often come to be with me, which signals that they are aware “something” is going on.
I am very grateful to my two felines. In addition to being my daily companions and making me smile and laugh, they were also instrumental in my choice to go vegan.
Often at bedtime I attempt to guide my toddler through a relaxation meditation. One night I was on the floor doing such, and our cat came over, curled up on my stomach and started purring. I just zoned into the purr and her warmth, and WOW! What a wonderful idea to use your cat in meditation! They are “purrfect” for the job!
This is wonderful! I’ve always felt that cats are the purrfect meditation partners (or rather, teachers!) – now we know why.
Thank you Ingrid! I know, there’s just something about cats and meditation. I once read of a Zen teacher in an early century who would not even lead a meditation unless his cat was present.