With America on edge, Cody took a cat nap

Plus: Inside a sensory deprivation tank; How a massage therapist sets a calming mood; Peak leaf time in the mountains; Election held; Mystery land sale in Dilworth

Editor’s note: Yes, there was a big election yesterday. But we’re figuring you can find the results just about everywhere else. So today, The Ledger is heading a different and more soothing direction with a special tranquility-themed newsletter. Today — for a few minutes, at least — let us be your eye in the hurricane, your oasis in the desert, your island in the stream. So take a deep breath, turn off the cable TV, close your toxic Facebook page and enjoy.

Our full Wednesday and Friday editions are usually available only to paying subscribers, but we’re making almost all of this one available to everyone.

Decision 2020 at the cat cafe in NoDa: Chase the laser pointer — or snooze in the play tunnel?; ‘It’s just an escape from reality for a little while’

EAT, PLAY, LOVE: 10-month-old Cody dozes in a tunnel at Mac Tabby Cat Cafe in NoDa on Tuesday.

by Tony Mecia and Cristina Bolling

Griffin investigated an array of colorful toys. Hayes reveled in his capture of a feather. And Cody curled up into a furry ball inside his blue play tunnel, waking occasionally to lick his paws.

While much of America anxiously awaited the results of Tuesday’s voting, the 12 cats inside the Mac Tabby Cat Cafe in NoDa went about their daily lives — a routine of napping, playing and cozying up to humans sipping coffee. It’s as though they didn’t even know there was an election.

Mac Tabby, which opened in 2017, is one of a growing number of cat cafes in the U.S. and is planning a second location in Concord. Another cat cafe in Charlotte is Daily Mews Cat Cafe, on Monroe Road.

Cat cafes are gaining appeal, their owners say, as people seek an escape from the stresses of the outside world that sometimes feline therapy can best provide. At Mac Tabby, customers are happy to part with $12 an hour to interact with a menagerie of cats and kittens, some opting to also purchase T-shirts, coffee drinks and beer.

“A lot of people come in here and say it’s just an escape from reality for a little while,” says owner Lori Konawalik. “It’s somewhere at peace. The music is low. There’s cats. They’re giving you love. You’re getting that feedback.”

Even during Covid, she says, business has been steady. And it makes sense — with all the trouble in the world, people are looking for a break, and cats are pure and playful, blissfully unaware of deadly plagues, racial unrest or bitter elections.

Take Griffin, a rambunctious gray kitten. Konawalik says he has been “crawling up on laps all week” — just because he wants to. “He doesn’t judge you. He’s not talking back to you. There’s just that common connection of beings on this earth that love each other. It’s hard to find that right now with people a little bit. The cats are giving people that peace.”

DECISION TIME: Griffin chooses from a selection of toys as Theodore chases a red dot from a laser pointer.

Science backs up the claim: In addition to improving your mood, pets can have stress-relieving physiological benefits. 

Researchers at Washington State University last year tested the saliva of 249 college students for the presence of the stress hormone cortisol. The students were divided into four groups: One group had hands-on interaction with cats and dogs for 10 minutes, while the other groups were allowed only to observe other people petting animals, watch a slideshow of animal photos, or were “waitlisted” from seeing the cats and dogs. 

The students who were allowed to interact with the pets “showed significantly less of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva after the interaction,” according to the study.

Of the handful of customers at Mac Tabby on Tuesday morning, some sat and sipped coffee and let the cats approach them. Others sought out the most playful felines with a variety of cat fishing-rod toys, laser pointers, crinkly colored paper and stuffed mice.

“It’s hard to complain when there’s animals and coffee,” said Alexa Hudson, 23, who works in sales for a Concord motorcycle dealer.

“Animals are definitely a great stress-reliever,” said Emma Martin, 17, a student at Levine Middle College High School.

WHEN OTHERS GO LOW, HE GOES HIGH: 5-month-old Gideon scales a cat tower in the corner for the best view.

All the cats at Mac Tabby come from a rescue, and they’re up for adoption. Since Mac Tabby’s opening, customers have provided homes for more than 400.

Most customers don’t take a cat home, Konawalik says, but she’s content knowing she’s providing a valuable service — to both two-legged and four-legged creatures — during these hard times.

“We’re proud to offer something for people that’s needed right now,” she said. “We’re making people happy.”

Searching for total relaxation, I spent an hour inside a salt water ‘float therapy’ tank in Waxhaw

BOBBING MY WAY TO BLISS?: There’s more than 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt suspended in the 95-degree water in this “float pod,” which makes for effortless floating. Some say floating helps them reduce stress, ease chronic pain and sleep better.

by Cristina Bolling

I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to unplugging and relaxing, especially in the middle of the day. Savasana meditation time at the end of yoga? I have to fight to keep from compiling to-do lists in my head.

So I decided to try what seemed like the mother of all relaxation activities — a float pod, also called a sensory deprivation tank, where you lie back and float, super-buoyant, in an egg-shaped tank of body-temperature salt water with little-to-no light or sound. Float spas, as they’re called, are found in many cities across the country — there are at least two in the Charlotte region, one in Waxhaw and one in Plaza-Midwood.

“That sounds awful,” said my husband James, when I invited him to join me.

“Reminds me of ‘Mork & Mindy’ — the spaceship egg that Robin Williams arrived in,” said my colleague, Tony Mecia, when I showed him a picture of a float tank.

But surely, floating weightlessly in a cocoon — unreachable and with no distractions — I could zone out for an hour. Right?

Here’s how it went:

I arrived at Float Carolina in Waxhaw after a Saturday morning of back-to-back errands, but I took a deep breath as I walked in, determined to push any jitters aside. I’d pre-paid my $75 fee and filled out my online waiver. I would find my zen today, dangit!

An employee named Paige with a soothing voice took me to the room where my float pod, glowing magenta underneath, was waiting.

Paige instructed me to shower completely (each pod room had a shower), cover any cuts or scrapes with a packet of petroleum jelly she provided (without it they’d sting in the salt water) and put in ear plugs. Floating naked is recommended, she said, because the whole idea is to feel nothing but the water.  

Then she explained how the pod worked: The 12-inches of body-temperature water had 1,000 lbs. of Epsom salts dissolved in it, and I’d feel weightless, as though I were in the Dead Sea. (The water was filtered and all surfaces were disinfected between clients, she said.)

She’d have soft music playing in the pod for the first five minutes of the float, and then turn it on again 55 minutes later to signal that it was time to get out. Whether I kept the lights on or off inside the pod was up to me. (There was a button above the water to control the lights.)

Paige left the room and I followed all of her instructions: I locked the door, showered, climbed into the pod and pulled the lid closed.

I marveled at my buoyancy. It took work to even push my arm down the 12 inches to the bottom of the tank. I grabbed a foam ring that was hanging beside me, positioned it under my head like a pillow, and closed my eyes.

Soft instrumental music played for the first five minutes. I tried total darkness for about 30 seconds, but I found myself wondering if that was what it felt like to be dead. I turned the light back on.

I experimented with the positioning of my body, first putting hands above my head, then resting them to my sides.

Time is a strange thing when you’re in a sensory deprivation tank, but I’d imagine that about 10 or 15 minutes passed before I finally started to relax and stopped trying to figure out how I felt, both in my body and in my mind.

I truly felt — nothing. My mind went to my breath. I heard the voice of my favorite yoga teacher, Nancy Nicholson, in my head, guiding me to think about how relaxed each part of my body felt — my hands, my arms, my torso, my legs, my ankles, my feet.

I had some random thoughts; what they were, I can’t exactly recall. Which I imagine is the point.

When the music came back on, I opened my eyes and sat up, pushed the tank lid open and stepped into the shower to wash the salt off. My skin was slippery and crystals had formed on my neck. I had a cup of chamomile tea in the relaxation room while Paige told me that an hour of floating brings the same relaxation as five to six hours of REM sleep.

Did I feel like I’d just awakened from a night of great sleep? Not really. I walked out of Float Carolina and my phone started pinging, my Saturday mom to-do list still ahead, with kids to drive places and chores to tackle.

But did I feel calmer? I think so. And when I lay down in bed that night, I tried to push aside the worries of the moment and put my mind back in that pod. And to remember what it felt like to feel nothing at all.

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N.C. mountains hit peak leaf-changing season

Soothing and stunning fall colors are on display in the N.C. mountains. Friend-of-The-Ledger Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project shot this beauty in Blowing Rock, near the Raven Rocks outlook last week.

Q&A: How a massage therapist gets her guests to leave their worries behind

Who knows more about making people feel relaxed than a massage therapist? Ledger editor Tony Mecia talked with Keisha Riley, 41, a massage therapist at The Spa at Ballantyne, about the techniques she and her colleagues use to instill tranquility among stressed-out guests.

She has been a massage therapist for 13 years, including the last 7 at The Ballantyne hotel. Remarks were edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: What are some of the techniques massage therapists use to get people to relax?

When they come in, we advise them to put away their cell phones so they are not distracted by that. We have a calming waiting area for them.

We lower the lighting. We have some spa music. We have scents throughout the spa. One of the signature scents is lavender. It’s indigenous to the Carolinas.

When they enter the massage room, definitely the lighting is low. We have a candle in there. There’s definitely not a lot of conversation. We want them to come there and let them zone out and not think about anything.

Q: How is the spa music chosen? What are the characteristics of calming music?

We have a mixture of music — ones that are instrumental, some with natural elements like water, birds, Native American. The thinking is that’s something that’s calming to people. We use a satellite company.

Q: Tell me about the lavender.

That’s going to be very stress-relieving. It helps calm your nervous system. It’s going to help lower blood pressure. It’s going to help you to relax. That’s just one of the scents you will automatically smell when you walk through the door. It’s a little sweet and also earthy.

Q: What does the candle do for relaxation?

That’s going to help calm your nerves. You definitely don’t want bright lights. It’s going to calm you right away.

Q: What other advice do you have for people as they go through their lives that they can use to be calmer?

Anything that you enjoy that relaxes you, take that time out during the day, even just a little bit, and do that for yourself — whether it’s a bubble bath, whether it’s reading a book, whether it’s sitting down and watching TV. Whatever you can do to relax, take that time out for you.

We’re used to doing so much for everybody else, but we forget about ourselves.

Big mystery land sale in Dilworth. Could it be for a med school?

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In other news…

Election results as of 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday:

  • President: Still too close to call, as several key states continue counting ballots.

  • U.S. Senate: Republicans appear likely to hold control of the U.S. Senate, though some races are still undecided. S.C. Republican Lindsay Graham was re-elected, and N.C. Republican Thom Tillis has an edge and declared victory, though his opponent, Cal Cunningham, has not conceded.

  • U.S. House: Democrats appear to have held the House of Representatives. N.C. incumbents held onto their seats, including Charlotte-area Reps. Dan Bishop (R) and Alma Adams (D).

  • Governor: Democrat Roy Cooper was re-elected.

  • State legislature: Republicans held onto control of the General Assembly.

  • Mecklenburg county commission: Democrats won all races, maintaining their 9-0 advantage.

  • Bonds: Mecklenburg bonds on transportation, affordable housing and neighborhood improvements passed.

In brief

  • Covid relief for the arts: Small- to mid-sized arts, science and history organizations are eligible to apply for Covid relief funding through next week. It’s also open to individuals who “generate a significant part of their income from an independent creative practice.” Details: www.investincreatives.com.

  • Record Cornelius sale: A house in Cornelius sold for $5.25M, the highest price ever for the town in northern Mecklenburg. The 7,700 s.f. estate includes a private beach on Lake Norman, a “custom chef’s kitchen, outdoor entertaining areas and a home gym.” (Biz Journal)

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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Reporting intern: David Griffith