A Good Man And His Cat And The Value Of Mental Imagery In Safe Exercise For Better Health


“Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.”

From the Tao te Ching by Lao-tzu, translated by Steven Mitchell.

Hi folks,

falling dream catI’ve always liked cats. When I was a veterinarian, many years ago, I met cats of all types, shapes and sizes, including wild, friendly, rough, smooth, polite, unpleasant, even dirty (rare for a cat, and it usually means they are really ill) cats. I don’t think I ever met a cat I didn’t like or at least respect. They are curious about the world and they never stop checking things out. They are always on alert, even when they don’t seem to be, but they do make mistakes, such as falling off of things, for instance. I think this happens because they become engaged in their own inner intellectual pursuits. Probably topology, or some such arcane topic. The most challenging of cats are the Siamese, who have a will of their own, make lots of noise, and love to cause trouble, but they are great companions if you can deal with all of that. Like some people I know, I guess!

If a person loves his/her cat they can’t be all bad, surely. Though, interestingly, some bad people in movies seem to have cats, if I remember correctly. My friend, Zaid, loves his cat as you can see. This guy made my stay in PHARMA a delight because he was always asking me to solve biochemical riddles. This made for great fun, good research, and potentially a valuable contributions to new drug design. And he loves his cat.

Man with Cat

Man (Zaid) who loves his cat (Snowy).

As an athlete, I try to be like a cat as best I can. Focused. Always ready to react to threatening situations. Soft. Cuddly. Strong inside and soft outside. And most importantly, ABLE TO RELAX. The biggest challenge to an athlete, especially an older athlete with a bunch of mental and physical (injury) baggage, is the ability to relax. If you aren’t relaxed you are unable to react quickly enough to avoid accidents, or develop a high cadence when swimming, biking or running, or whatever you like to do. Furthermore, if you have a tight muscle the tension tends to spread to other muscle groups. This is also true of mental tension, which can spread to your muscles. I find that picking up a cat, like Snowy in the picture, gives me that sense of relaxation towards which I strive. I’m sure I’ll never beat Snowy at this game, but mental feline imagery does help me let those tight muscles relax.

When undertaking a program of safe exercise for better health, don’t underestimate the value of learning to relax. Find and reduce tension in your mind and body, and most importantly don’t underestimate the value of your cat as a mentor in this area of expertise.

-k @FitOldDog



  1. In real life (not the movies) I don’t think bad people have cats. Nice people have cats or dogs and nasty people, if they have a pet, seem to have a dog, preferably a vicious one, or an iguana that needs to be fed live mice.

  2. Marsha Schauer says

    Cats sleep so much, completely zonked out. My 3 + a feral lady I’m trying to domesticate are all my great friends. I’ve learned to give in when the body says ‘rest’ and curl up, joined by one of them. Good teachers with their yoga bodies.

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.