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The Cat Position

The Cat Position

Are you uncomfortable yet?


“Now assume the cat position. Go down on all fours and then arch your back up like a cat getting electrocuted.”

I’m glad he’s demonstrating, because at my age I keep forgetting what a cat looks like when it’s getting electrocuted.

He arches his back into the air just like an electrocuted cat and I follow suit. Then he starts bending back slowly keeping his front hands planted squarely in front of him while the rest of his body travels in the opposite direction. Me? I try to do the same, but generally my body only goes in one direction at a time, and is soon feeling like its being stretched over a medieval torture rack. Sinews, ligaments, tendons, and the kitchen sink are all crying out to me to stop this “stretching technique.” But like the electrocuted cat, I’m not really thinking much right now. I’m just arching.

I miss the benign “How did that make you feel,” which is replaced by an almost menacing, “How does that feel now, champ?

Why do they call this physical “therapy”? Therapy is best done while lying on a comfortable couch blaming all your problems on other people. But physical therapy is different; it’s not over until you are hurting. I miss the benign “How did that make you feel,” which is replaced by an almost menacing, “How does that feel now, champ?” And if your answer is anything less than a whimper, they keep on stretching you out.

I soon find myself on my back with one leg extended upward but slowly being bent back into itself in the strong capable hands of my therapist. The pain is extreme, with just a few movements of reprieve when I switch from contracting to relaxing, only to be followed by a few more inches of “progress.” When I begin tasting shoe, I tap out. I think I’m limber enough. I can’t say for sure because I can’t get up, but the world does feel distinctly limber from my perch on the therapy table…

But I did come away with a gem from my physical therapist, one of the nicest people I know (he has to be in order to get away with giving people such intense pain) and a super talent in his field. As we were twisting and manipulating various limbs on the floor he said, “When you can be comfortable while still in an uncomfortable position, you know you are in good shape.”

The highest success is not in simply finding comfort, but rather in finding it in the most uncomfortable of positions. Because to get to that level, you have to stretch every one of your muscles to its limit. Being in good shape is only possible when we are working on ourselves strenuously, pushing ourselves through uncomfortable realities to get to where we want to go.

Stretched to the Max

In a biography of Rav Eliezer Menachem Man Shach, of blessed memory, (1899-2001, Lithuania – Israel), one of the greatest Torah giants of the 20th century, there is a description of the great deprivation Rav Shach endured in order to stay in the famed Slabodka yeshiva as a young teenager. Owning only one set of clothing, barely eating anything, and unable to afford lodging other than the benches in the back of the yeshiva, Rav Shach thrived. He looked back at those years with great fondness, at the full immersion he had in his Talmudic study and spiritual pursuit, both of which were entirely unhampered by any material concerns or distractions. He may have been stretched to the max, he may have been in a very uncomfortable position, but he found his comfort zone and flourished.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, (1707-1746, Italy- Acco) in his seminal mussar masterpiece The Path of the Just (Mesilas Yesharim), states that the desire and tendency to find comfort zones in our lives where we can just sit back and relax is one of the greatest obstacles to personal growth. It is the biggest detractor from alacrity, which is the enthusiasm and drive we need to tap into our potential. He recommends that a person live by the maxim, “For man was created for toil” (Job 5:7) and says that when we look at life through that prism, we can embrace the work we need to do to get to where we have to go. When we are used to stretching and pulling, every further inch is not agony, but anticipated growth.

When we are used to stretching and pulling, every further inch is not agony, but anticipated growth.

It is interesting to note the strange blessing Jacob our forefather gave to his son Yissachar just before he died. Despite blessing all his children, it is the only blessing in which the word “good” is found: “Yissachar is a strong boned donkey, it rests between the boundaries. He saw tranquility that it was good and the land that it was pleasant, yet he bent his shoulder to bear and he became an indentured laborer (Genesis 49:14,15). The only one of Jacob’s children that is blessed with tranquility and goodness is the one who understands that in order to get that goodness he needs to bend his shoulder to bear the load; he needs to stretch himself till he’s uncomfortable.

If any of us were to look back at what we consider to be the best time in our lives, I doubt it would be a time we just lounged around playing video games or reading a good novel. Chances are it would be a time we were stretching ourselves to the max. It would be the times we found a way to be comfortable despite being in an uncomfortable position.

So everyone, let’s assume the cat position. It may not be comfortable, but it sure is electrifying!

May 1, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) amy eden, May 12, 2010 2:35 PM

who invented the cat position

it looks like something barney frank or ed koch invented

(5) eric, May 6, 2010 1:25 AM

not sure

although i would prefer to agree, forsome reason what comes to mind r my college days of just chilling and bar hoping.My life today is much more spiritual and fulfilling however those r the days I look back to and miss.Please guide me in your direction.

(4) ruth, May 3, 2010 4:59 PM

"it's a stretch"

I often put a giraffe sticker or stamp on my letters, and I am always thinking that life is a stretch. I guess the idea of stretching to look like an electrocuted cat really got to me, because I just attended a seminar in which it was discussed that Thomas Merton, famous for his letters and retreat into the self towards God, well he was electrocuted and this is how he died. So it's still raw for me. To think about this. Why idid he die this way. It was, shocking. I don't understand a lot about life and I think many of us don't, and the Book of Job, quoted, is a book that truly tries to ask a question and never quite succeeds, about God, and our lives. it's a cruel story and has been analyzed in many ways with myriad interpretations. MacLeish wrote a play called JB which is brilliant and also, troubling. Yes, we need to stretch our muscles, and our minds. I think what's painful is often deeply connected to that phoenix that always rises, but all the same, how much of a stretch, and when do we ask God, What is this story all about?

(3) Anonymous, May 3, 2010 9:15 AM

This is so true!

I definitely agree!

(2) Anonymous, May 2, 2010 2:33 PM


Thank you for this wonderful article. It seems to be a variation on the theme of the oyster and the pearl. There is another term that is used philosophically and it is called "horizon". One constantly transcends one's horizons. That is true growth. To do so one must find meaning. When one is younger mountains, and waves and hills wait to be conquered. As one ages it seems that meaning can really be found in making one's bed "just so". "Just so" means with the attitude of knowing that Hashem is with you and the so called menial task of making the bed is not really menial. Then as one gets to be a bit older one gets into a stage of a child where one does not look upon things to do. One just does. One is like a child again. There is no self-reflection (thankfully) and there really is very little analytical thinking. There is only a state of being and simple doing. There is no skipping of these stages and if they are missed then there will be disorder in life. The secret, as outlined in the above article, is to live life to the fullest at whatever stage one is at. Everything else will be looked after. Do not worry. All will be well but please do not waste your life on television and those games. That you might regret. Beautiful article. Thank you.

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