Meditating with cats can be relaxing, but there are challenges involved that you might not expect.
“The cats just do whatever the hell they want to do, which sometimes is great because they curl up next to you. And sometimes, they just go mental,” says Fenella Powell, who runs a cat meditation class at You&Meow cat cafe in Bristol, UK.
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Fenella has always taken an interest in mindfulness and practised meditation from the age of 11.
“I went to a very unique London-based school – it was a girl’s school. We had 20-40 minutes of meditation in the morning and then 20 minutes of meditation in the evening.”
Since then, she’s studied transcendental meditation and began to take an interest in mindfulness while at university.
When she met You&Meow’s owner, Ewa Rukat, it was a real meeting of minds. Fenella says: “When I heard about the cat café, as a cat lover I was very excited!
“I just happened to come in with a friend and get talking to Ewa. I asked her if she had anyone to do the mindfulness classes and when she said no I said: ‘Oh my goodness, please let me do this.’
“So we did a couple of sessions and talked through everything and went from there.”
Mindfulness meditation with cats
“When I started the café, I already knew that I wanted to run mindfulness classes,” says Ewa
“People are so stressed so these classes are needed and people love cats. Bristol is great for this kind of class because people are so focused on healthy living.”
Ewa is originally from Poland and moved to the UK after university. After working in customer services, she landed a job at the UK’s first ever cat cafe, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London, which inspired her to launch her own cat cafe.
She’s tried to create a really chilled out environment for both humans and cats: “I got the inspiration for the interiors from Japanese cat cafes.
“I really believe that cats are great healers and can really relax you. So cats go so well with mindfulness and meditation.”
Spending time with You&Meow’s 13 cats makes for a unique meditation experience and it can take some getting used to for those who attend the classes.
“You can’t really control what cats will be doing during the meditation. The first time they were running around like crazy,” says Ewa.
“On our first session, one of our cats just came and lay with his legs in the air, he could really sense the atmosphere in the room.”
Cats sometimes come and sit beside people when they’re meditating and purr, but that’s not all they bring to the sessions.
Sometimes in the middle of a class, Fenella says that you might hear “random hilarious noises”.
But rather than causing a distraction, the interaction with the cats helps the students to relax.
“You just know that everyone’s laughing and everyone’s smiling and it just eases that space,” she says.
“The whole point is we’re here to relax and have fun and it’s not about being really rigid and focused. It’s about finding a lovely environment to try out meditation and mindfulness that’s so relaxed.”
Mindfulness can often be taken too seriously and the cats bring a lighthearted mood to the sessions.
They roam around between the students while they’re meditating and can choose to keep their distance – or investigate.
“A lady had a cat jump on her and it was just the weirdest experience. They’ll come and sniff you and you think: ‘What is that?!’ And it’s a nose!”
After the class, there’s time to unwind and spend some time playing with the cats. It’s a perfect way to relax.
Meditating with your cat
Fenella says that practising mindfulness meditation at home with your own cat can be a rewarding experience for both of you.
“The thing with cats is that they hear us and understand us, she says. “My cat at home will know when I’m sad and he’ll come to me and cheer me up his own way.
“When a cat is able to see its owner relaxing it must be a lovely thing for them – in the back of its head it must think that you’re copying them.
“It gives your cat the opportunity to interact with you, knowing you’re not going to do anything.
“They can sit with you or cuddle with you and when I meditate I know that my cat will come and know that I’m not going to stroke him.
“He can see I’m having a quiet time and wants to join me.”
You&Meow runs regular mindfulness classes. For more information, visit its Facebook page and website.
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Photos by Priscilla Du Preez, Alexander Possingham and Scott Webb on Unsplash