Do you ever wish you had the confidence of a beloved cat (or other creature)?
Cats embody grace, poise, confidence and ease. They offer and accept affection when they want to and have no qualms about setting healthy boundaries or simply batting it away when they don’t.
If I say Ventral Vagal Wellness (an incredibly important, life changing concept) to most people, they’d look at me blankly. It might even trigger a mild stress response.
In a nutshell, it’s the science around how feeling safe, welcome and loved helps us thrive.
When I say Cattitude or Feline Better Every Day, many immediately GET it
As you can probably imagine, the idea of Cat Coaching for Self Care, even bringing in Polyvagal Theory, started as a bit of a joke. But it’s become one of the most effective elements of my toolkit
I developed Cat Coaching to improve my OWN mental health and wellbeing. I’d been working with my own inner critic for decades and the therapies and coaching I trained in (and having my own therapy) helped a lot.
But it was learning about Polyvagal Theory in 2012 and applying it to life with my rescue kitten, Rainbow MagnifiCat, in 2013 that helped me use it not only with trauma therapy clients but more generally across my practice, when appropriate.
Using the idea of cats and other beloved animals helped people better understand the theory.
Rainbow MagnifiCat was born under a car in Colchester (a city in Essex, UK near where I lived at the time) and even now, when I imagine what that must have been like for her mother and her and her siblings, I’m in awe at how well adjusted she is.
I’d been meditating and asking for guidance before going to visit the local cat shelter and, during the visit, wondered if maybe I wasn’t supposed to adopt a cat after all but she seemed to choose me.
Then she hid behind a bookcase for 36 hours and I wondered if I’d misread the signs. She mewed and I echoed her mews back and eventually, she came out and started using me as a climbing frame and still does.
I often joke that she’s more puppy than cat but while she was hiding and I was cat-astrophising about not being a good enough human for her, I resolved to do everything I could to give her a secure base, a safe space in which she could recover and grow and explore from.
I wanted her Rest Digest response (a function of the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system) to develop well so no matter what adventures she chose when spayed and allowed out months later, she’d have that strong, healthy wiring to fall back on.
Polyvagal Theory, developed by Stephen Porges and expanded on by Deb Dana and others, is often called ‘the science of safety and connection’
Over the years, I was adding therapies and supervision to my own practice and realised that my self talk had improved in a more consistent, natural way than ever before.
Understanding more about the brain, nervous system and Polyvagal Theory had massively helped. And my daily efforts to use my tone of voice to support the MagnifiCat’s development and growth had a positive impact on my own nervous system.
At some point, I realised that instead of harsh, stress response triggering, amygdala alarming self talk like calling myself stupid, I was recognising when I made mistakes but sighing more gently and calling myself (in my head and sometimes aloud) Evie Cat.
Yes, a part of me IS embarrassed to be typing this but it might help you so I’m not deleting it.
Observing and working with my own nervous system as well as Rainbow’s helped me better integrate my understanding of something that is life changing (what we know about our wiring and how best to support it through Polyvagal Theory) AND which, to be honest, gave me anxiety dreams when I was beginning to study it.
So much jargon. And yet it’s been a core element of my practice since 2012. I love sharing its principle with clients when relevant, with yoga students, with workshop participants and during talks as well as in features and columns and blog posts
Rainbow MagnifiCat even featured in the index of the book, 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing (White Owl, 2017) five times. I’m working on a new book, Cattitude, in which I pretend to translate her Feline Better Every Day wisdom. as well as that of her animal and insect friends to help readers enhance their ventral vagal wellness.
Over the years, when appropriate, I’d use what I call Cat Coaching as a short cut with clients. Rainbow even became part of my logo for a while.
She had her own blog, Purrfection Pawsonified, and sometimes guest blogs for me (as in, I pretend to be her and connect with that Cattitude and sense of ease and confidence I wish I could bottle and share with everyone who’d benefit from feeling better about themselves, whatever they’ve survived or are going through).
And, of course, I’d use Cat Coaching for Self Care and Polyvagal Theory with myself
For example, when we moved from Essex in the UK to the Westport, on the west coast of Ireland, it was a lot for both of our nervous systems. I chose my rental and then my furever (sorry) home based on her needs – I’d never dreamed of living out in the country.
With 3 moves in 5 months and only knowing the friends and acquaintances I’d made while preparing for my move via social media, I sometimes followed Rainbow’s example and simply pulled the duvet over my head to acknowledge all the change and chaos, albeit temporary and exciting.
Rainbow would spend hours under the duvet. Visitors, in my imagination, wondered if I really DID have this cat I kept talking about. She wasn’t at all distressed, simply taking her time and allowing herself to rest and do whatever she needed to feel safe.
I was reminded of the impala analogy Peter Levine uses in his excellent book about trauma and the body, Waking the Tiger.
We humans, when feeling shaky, often beat ourselves up for the physiological response we’re having to whatever is happening in our world to make us feel like this.
But when the impala plays dead to avoid being eaten by the lion, when it feels safe enough, it gets up, shakes off the stress and gets on with its day.
No, ‘Urgh, I can’t believe I thought that was a lion. It was FINE. The other impalas must think I’m SO STUPID.’ It simply moves on.
Rainbow was spending lots of time under the duvet but was also doing an enormous amount of exploring her new surroundings, inside each new home and outside.
And I can give myself credit for all the things I was doing in a new (to me) country to get settled personally and professionally. The rest, downtime and simple connection with the breath really helped.
I hope that even the idea of Cat Coaching helps you begin to soften your own self talk. To honour your wild self (aka your animal self). Your body and nervous system has SO much wisdom for you.
The Feel Better Every Day Online Membership Programme includes some Feline Better Every Day Cat Coaching, too
Westport, Co Mayo, Republic of Ireland and, when travel’s possible again, London and Essex, UK.
(c) Eve Menezes Cunningham 2004-2021. All rights reserved.