Hot Yoga with Cats: Cats are perverse creatures: they rarely do what you want them to do. When you offer love, they respond with indifference, sometimes a swipe of the claw; when you ignore them, then it’s definitely love time: not just a little pass against the calf, but onto the lap, head against the chest, deep purrs loud as the cicadas at dusk saying “Pay attention, pay attention.” Humans are also perverse creatures, though we like to use our big brains to persuade ourselves we’re not. How else to explain the manner in which, for example, we coddle animals, shelter them and love them, and protect them almost like they’re our children, yet we also ignore them, abuse them, eat them. Or the manner in which we preach love and understanding, but ensure that this only applies to some people, some of the time. What about the ways in which we talk about the sanctity of the world, the special world created just for us, then spend our energies extracting every mineral, each resource: muddying the clear, bright creeks; felling the deep green forests; poisoning the rich brown earth? Perhaps if our brains weren’t quite so big we’d be unable to persuade ourselves that we’re not doing anything wrong when, of course, we only need to persuade ourselves of this because we are aware that we certainly are.
Cats and their perversity came to my mind the other day, when I decided to do yoga. I do yoga very infrequently, but when I do I swear that I am going to do it every day. I find all that time lying on my back, slowly breathing, amazingly soothing: like a nice hot bath without having to get wet. And my poor cranky back—curved where it shouldn’t be, abused by all that work in the fish cannery, those years of heavy books and groceries, and all sorts of things I shouldn’t have been carrying about and that are finally having their payback time—is, at least for a moment, somewhat less cranky. So I go to my closet, find my yoga mat and a couple of towels, spread them on the floor, and then go to my bedroom to change into some sweatpants. Invariably, when I come back, there’s a cat on the mat. After trying to lure the cats to my lap, or get them to curl up with me on the bed, the moment that I want to do yoga they are right there, front and center, ready to occupy my space. The cats’ ability to seemingly transport themselves immediately to my yoga mat reminds me of my mother’s complaints about the telephone.
Back in the Iron Age when I was a child, there was one phone, and it was a fixed object. Our phone was rather cool because it was green in color, and it had a lovely long green cord so you could move about 5 feet away from the wall—twisting it around your finger or yourself as you talked. It was located in the kitchen, a rather high traffic area, but you could usually hear the person at the other end as long as there weren’t too many people around. Unfortunately for my mother, the minute she wanted to make a call and have a little private time we’d all magically appear, not only disruptive in our presence, shoving each other, picking at things we shouldn’t, getting into forbidden areas of the kitchen, but in our volume: we were loud. There was never any measurement of the volume produced by my sisters and I on an average day, but my guess is that it was rather stupendous. While we have no verification of this, my mother did, for a short time, send tapes to my grandmother, a step between the letters of the past and the technology that my grandmother would not see arrive: email, cell phones, Skype, etc. My mother found one of these tapes when she was cleaning out my grandmother’s home and listened to it. Apparently, it consists of my mother speaking of this and that while, in the background, the hurricane of girls rages. My mother says what makes the tape delightfully ridiculous is the way she attempts to speak normally, conversationally, because, obviously, this is just another day while, to the untrained ear, a disaster is taking place right around her. So, this seems to provide evidence that we were, indeed, more than a little loud.
Anyhow, every time my poor mother picked up the phone she would get to enjoy the visual and aural treat of us girls. Whether we were outside, in the basement, out by the bluff, the moment she picked up the phone we were there—and were we ever there. I think of my mother and her phone whenever I do yoga, because when I do there the cats are—right there. They do not move when I advance towards the mat, try to lie down on it, or attempt a downward dog into their fuzzy cat faces. No, they sit there, imperious on the soft yellow towels, and then take up more space, extending their paws to the utmost as if to say, “Silly human, yoga looks so much better on us.” And truth be told, it does; even when they aren’t trying, the cats are about 5 million times more flexible than I am. Even J., who is, to speak kindly, rather zaftig, and who has a belly like cascading hills of tawny fluff, can extend her leg to lick it in a way that I could never do even if I trained for a billion years: not that I really foresee licking my own leg as a goal to which I wish to aspire. The cats’ least stretch makes my puny efforts seem strained, ridiculous, unlikely to do anyone any good. So, the sight of the cats makes me feel unworthy before I have even begun to stretch.
To compound the difficulty of trying to do yoga on a map largely occupied by a fluffy creature with no thoughts of exiting the space, is the heat. As I have mentioned, Alabama is hot. Not just hot, but very, very hot and, of course, humid. I’ve never been so aware of every portion of my skin, particularly of each crease and wrinkle, until I came to Alabama and began to sweat. There’s the general moistness mixed with heat—like a thousand Sahara Deserts mixed with scalding baths on my neck, shoulders, and face—but there is also the wet spots formed in the creases: the deep caverns in the bend of the lower and upper arm, the armpits that feel like improbably moist volcano mouths. The feeling of my skin against my skin is sometimes almost intolerable—my own body heat more degrees of heat on already-hot skin. So, I sweat and stretch, and stretch, and sweat, with the cats, so unconcerned, sleeping happily on their portion of the mat as I contort, trying to avoid them, trying to find some relief, trying to find the calm and completeness that they, without one effort, have already found.