Between Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner I spent time with four cats in four different households. One is the cat who lives with me — Becky, who has been with me since she and her sister Henrietta were just under five weeks old. Becky will be 21 years old in April. Becky likes to be near me, but prefers to just sit still on my lap and be petted very gently. She still goes up and down pretty steep steps several times a day, but she needs a cushion next to the bed and a low coffee table next to her favorite sofa to be able to climb up to her favorite sleeping places. She is very affectionate. When I have guests, she always comes out to greet them.
On Christmas Eve, I went to a party at a neighbors’ house. There were lots of children running around, tumbling with each other; those who were not in the play basement climbed on adults and furniture, filling the house with energy. After most of the children went home (departing early in bright-eyed anticipation of Christmas morning), Tabitha, who is about 13 came downstairs to visit. She checked out most of the people in the room and jumped up and down off of the sofas several times before picking my lap for a nice petting. Although she is still is solidly, physically able, she has slowed down since I first met her 8-10 years ago.
At lunch on Christmas Day, Sunshine, who is about three, sat in my lap, wildly draping herself into fabulous contortions as she was petted. She lives with two elderly huskies. She was feeling spunky because one of them just had a major operation, and she was feeling safer and more confident, being far the nimblest of the three animals. She even played with her feathery thing on a string toy right in front of the huskies, neither of whom had the energy to disrupt her play. She engaged in some tolerably strenuous antics, but only for a short while before she got bored and took herself off for a bath.
The cat guest at Christmas dinner was seven-week old kitten Toulouse. She does not walk. She bounces. She likes to dance around on her hind legs. She has figured out that if she gets a running start, she can leap onto, instead of clambering up, the sofa that is about five times her height. She played the whole time before dinner and then after dinner played madly with any hand, string, dust mote, rumpled up piece of wrapping paper, computer cord, shoelace, shadow, rug corner, pants leg, cat toy, etc, etc, that flitted across her vision. Like the children, she is still building her strength and flexibility and discovering how to get around and where she can go.
Watching those cats made me think of my continuing coming to terms with the range of my asana practice. I often practice with a group of yogis who are, for the most part, 10-20 years younger than I am. They are beautiful and flexible and strong and a joy to witness. Sometimes when I am practicing with them and I am feeling the aches and pains of an aging spine, it is hard for me stay at peace with the fact although I have a fairly strong physical practice, I cannot have the same one that I would have had if I were working from my level of competence and was 15 years younger. Even when we stay physically engaged throughout life, the realities of aging will change our way of being in the body. Just as it was a delight to sit with all four cats at such different places in their lives and observe their grace, we will age more peacefully if instead of fighting always to have the physical state of youth, we celebrate what enhances our feeling of well-being wherever we are in life. And regardless of previous practice or physical fitness, a steady asana practice at every age, like the play of a cat, can help keep us more vital.