Bringing warmth and a distinctly human touch, yoga teacher Cat Meffan has amassed a legion of fans. We chat about her Soul Sanctuary channel and life beyond the mat
By Samantha Lewis
Cat Meffan is one of the most well-known yoga teachers on the internet with hundreds of thousands of followers. She started making a name for herself on YouTube back in 2016, launching her own online yoga business just before we were confined to our homes and bedroom yoga went supernova. Soul Sanctuary is a membership platform that provides a space for people to deepen their physical asana practice but also look at how they can take the principles of yoga into everyday life. Each month members receive four yoga flows, a guided meditation and the chance to pick Cat’s brains during a live Q&A.
“Soul Sanctuary came at a really hard time when I was going through a break up, but it allowed me to let go of so much that was going wrong in my life and throw myself into something that was igniting my soul on such a deep level,” she tells me on the phone from her home in Dorset.
I have been following Cat for many years and truly believe she’s the best in the business. She has a welcoming energy and genuine warmth that comes right through the screen and just makes you feel good. Not to mention, she can do some unbelievable things with her body from the splits to handstand walkovers. Some yogis who can bend themselves into these ‘glory poses’ have been criticised for coming across as exhibitionists. Cat definitely doesn’t fit into this box. She’s very humble and has openly talked about her struggles with imposter syndrome. In fact, it’s the reason why she took so long to charge for her expertise. “I got so used to putting out this content for free on YouTube that I didn’t realise I could make changes. I guess I thought how dare I charge people for something I’ve already given them for free, so I just doubted it,” she says. “People were emailing me after I launched Soul Sanctuary and saying I’m so glad you’re now charging for what you do. I honestly couldn’t believe it.”
Like any first-time entrepreneur, Cat has faced a steep learning curve. She says the hardest part of growing a business is juggling different roles: “I love teaching yoga but I never thought I was going to be almost like a CEO of a company. The biggest challenge is learning to wear every single hat, even the ones you’re not good at and the ones you don’t enjoy. My passion doesn’t lie in doing accounts and admin and all that stuff. It’s a lot when you’re launching your own business and at the start, it’s just you.” Many online yoga teachers have big production teams but that’s not a route Cat has chosen to go down. She films and edits all of the videos herself from a studio she has created in the loft of her home. It’s a soothing, plant-filled space where she can tuck herself away from the outside world.
Cat’s content isn’t polished (more on this later) but this makes it feel relatable. She says showing her own vulnerability on camera is why she’s been able to speak to so many people: “My community feels so connected to me because I’ll tell them about tougher times. When I first did my yoga teacher training they said never talk about yourself because you’re just there to do a job. I can’t resonate with that at all because I think so much of my success has come from me being really honest about the tough days. I will talk about the bigger things in life, like going through hardship or struggling with motivation.”
As a teenager, Cat wanted to be a dancer or gymnast but those dreams came tumbling down when she suffered a knee injury and had to undergo reconstructive surgery. She discovered yoga as part of her rehab and went to her first class at a local leisure centre with her mum. Later, while working in marketing and fitness blogging, she qualified as a yoga teacher and started uploading videos to YouTube. Today her eponymous channel has 271,000 subscribers. “I feel like one of the wise old owls of the online teaching world,” she laughs. “I was growing an audience back when it was really just ‘Yoga with Adriene’ and some of the other bigger powerhouses. It was before algorithms when it was really easy to grow organically and people were just finding me from all over the world. It felt bizarre but it was amazing to be able to reach so many people.” Cat has always taught her online classes exactly as she would if she was in person. She never edits out any of her mistakes so you’ll see her get a left and right mixed up or topple over in tree pose. It’s one of the most important choices she’s made because it puts you at ease and shows she’s just like the rest of us.
Her signature style is vinyasa flow (she’s also trained in ashtanga, rocket, mandala and yin yoga) and she loves to create fluid and playful sequences. She almost dances through her flows and makes one pose seamlessly dissolve into the next. “A lot of my own personal healing journey has come through free movement and that release of letting go, so I try to bring that into the practices as much as I can,” she says. “My practices are more of an intermediate level but I will, where possible, give lots of modifications and variations.”
Cat is also known for her annual 31-day yoga challenge, which she runs throughout January.. This year’s theme was ‘Nature and Nurture’ and included elemental practices and an educational mini-series on the five koshas of the body. “What I want people to come to is a feeling of nurturing and compassion for themselves. The challenge is about showing up on day one and being accountable for yourself,” she says.
So should we be doing yoga every day? Well, that depends on how you define yoga. Cat says because yoga has been more talked about since the pandemic, there’s a better understanding that it doesn’t just involve some pretty poses. “Do I step on my mat every day? Definitely not, but I will do some kind of pause to breathe – some kind of journalling or movement and mindfulness. That to me is my yoga every day,” she says. “I think that’s why there’s such beauty to a bigger aspect of what yoga is. When we know there is so much more to it than just those sun salutations on the mat, we realise we can practice yoga every day, but just not in the way that we once thought it needed to be.”
When Cat isn’t on her mat she’s most likely by the sea. She loves the ocean and has recently moved from London to be near the coast. Her morning routine involves beach walks with her rescue dog Norman and braving an icy dip: “I love cold water swimming because it gives a beautiful sense of release and challenges you on so many levels. You go into fight or flight straight away when you get into the water and have those moments of breathlessness and feel like you want to get out. Then the switch flips and you surrender to it and you’re so at one with the water and being with your body and your breath.”
Cat is also a keen surfer and earlier this year she headed to Sri Lanka to host a six-night surf and yoga retreat, and she recently returned from a retreat in Portugal, describing it as the most healing retreat she has ever facilitated. “As always, I have been doing a lot of my own self study, growing and healing, which is what inspires the way I hold space on retreats.” All of Cat’s retreats for the rest of the year are booked up (Greece and Costa Rica in 2023 to be announced shortly), which is a testament to her popularity. “I’m so proud of the way they are evolving and for every guest that shows up and shares their love, laughter, vulnerability, playfulness and strength.”
As for the future, Cat is focused on expanding Soul Sanctuary. She recently launched a 30-day beginner yoga course and is currently busy filming new themes like arm balances, mandala flow and embracing change. She also hopes to do more UK-based events, workshops and day retreats, so watch this space. Just before we wrap up, Cat tells me that her cheeks are aching from smiling so much during our chat. I can immediately imagine it because it’s a smile I know so well – she really is such a lovely, happy soul.