There’s healing to be had in those good feline vibrations
By MEG CRANE
My cats pull out this adorable snuggle move sometimes. When I’m sitting down, they’ll come up in front of me and place their paws up on my shoulder. Standing only on their hind legs, they’ll press their body up against me and whip out their deepest, most intense purr, even when my hands are busy typing at the keyboard or holding a magazine. If I’m not otherwise occupied, I’ll scoop them up under their bums and either hold them there or go lay down.
As much as I love it when they do this, I didn’t really think about there being any motivation behind it, except for getting some mama-time. Then, a big ol’ Tomcat came to crash with me for a few weeks while he waited for his furever family to find him. He was particularly aggressive in slamming his chest against mine, wrapping his strong arms around my neck as he vibrated against me. There was no moving him. While he would rest on my chest when I lay down, he was only so determined to be this close to me when I was sitting at my desk, stressed by my workload. The closer I was to a panic attack, the more intent he was on being against me.
It was then that I realized my three cats only forced their way into the same positions when I was having a high-anxiety day. While I was surprised to learn the vibrations of cat purrs speed physical healing, I wasn’t surprised to hear that they can also use their purrs to reduce anxiety.
Scientific American sheds some light on “Why do cats purr?”:
Scientists have demonstrated that cats produce the purr through intermittent signaling of the laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles. Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz. Various investigators have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing.
The reason for this is that cells have different vibrations depending on if they’re sick or healthy. Dr. Linda Hamilton, a vet at Natural Healing Veterinary Care on Corydon Avenue, has considered the research and studies and says the vibration of a cat’s purr helps get cells back to a healthy vibration.
Despite not having done the scientific research herself, she believes in its truth based on what she’s witnessed. Hamilton says she hears from a lot of people whose uncuddly cats suddenly drown them in purr-filled snuggles when they are sick or injured. “Those are kind of just neat little stories, but you see it again and again and again, and it’s really cool how that can happen.
“When you’ve got a cat that’s purring, a lot of times it can actually help with getting the vibration of your cells, or an injured animal’s cells, in the right vibration so it heals better,” Hamilton says. She assumes someone with anxiety would have an unhealthy vibration. “If a person or an animal is anxious, their energy field and their vibration would be out of sync,” Hamilton says. “A cat purring would try to be getting that person’s vibration of the cells back into that healthy kind of range.”
The sympathetic nervous system – which is the fight-or-flight response – is kicked in when a person is anxious. “When you’re like that, your body is in that stage where digestion and healing and everything are really, sort of really, pushed to the back burner. It doesn’t matter if you’re digesting. You have to run from the saber-toothed tiger,” Hamilton says. The parasympathetic nervous system is quite the opposite; it kicks in when the body is in a relaxed state, such as when doing yoga or meditating, Hamilton says. “Perhaps the purring might actually help with that, slow down the heart rate and slow down the breathing.”
This has, in fact, been my experience. Whether it’s the rhythm, snuggles or time with a creature I love, my heart rate does indeed decrease when one of my cats purrs near my heart. A couple of months ago, I had the worst panic attack of my life. I couldn’t breathe and didn’t know what to do, so I collapsed on the floor in my hallway. It took lots of stretching and conscious breathing to help bring me down to an okay level, but it was my cats rushing to my side to poke me with their noses and curl in for a snuggle that initially brought me down enough to even be able to do that.
Hamilton admits that a lot of people think this kind of stuff is a little wacko, but she also notes that Western medicine is starting to understand a lot of the science behind alternative medicine and is introducing new practices. For example, doctors now encourage humans suffering from heart problems to pat dogs, and therapy pups are actually brought into cardiac wards. For people who don’t believe in the “hippie woo-woo,” as she calls it, there’s now science showing how spending time with an animal can benefit our physical health. Until recently, the means to measure cell vibrations didn’t even exist, so people were writing off the possibility that cat purrs had healing powers because the technology wasn’t able to explain why. “Just because I might not understand it, doesn’t mean that it’s not true,” Hamilton says.
I’ll be honest, I’ve always struggled with science. I ask “Why?” until no one can answer anymore and am left more puzzled than I started out. However, I do know that when my cats go out of their way to press their chest against mine and give me some purrs and lovin’, it sure does calm me down.
One of the best remedies for my anxiety has been and continues to be my feline companions.