Costa Rica Yoga JournalMark GoldsteinYoga

Breath and Movement

By Mark Goldstein

Many, if not all styles of yoga integrate breath into their practices. I teach the Vinyasa Flow style of yoga, and we link breath to each movement we make. There are quite a few asanas, or yoga poses, that can illustrate the experience of linking breath with movement, and this edition’s pose of the month is really a pair of poses named Cat and Cow.
Playa Yoga

Each month I have been offering a “pose of the month” in Quepolandia. The pose is always one that is accessible and beneficial to all, from the very beginner to the seasoned yogi. There are always techniques available to modify these poses in order to make them gentler or more demanding. What we are focusing on right now is the aspect of linking breath and movement, and Cat/Cow is a nice one to illustrate this.

There are many details which can be focused on in these two poses, and we will be playing with, and experiencing the benefits of “Cat/Cows” in each one of our yoga classes this month.

So, why is linking breath and movement important in yoga? As I mentioned earlier, I teach a style of yoga referred to as Vinyasa Flow. Simply put, we breath, an inhale or exhale, into each movement we make. When we link a breath to each movement we can create a flowing sequence full of both vitality and deeper relaxation. If I asked you right now to drop your shoulders, what happens? Try it.

Stop doing what you are doing, close your eyes, and try to relax your shoulders down and away from your ears. Most likely you helped yourself by taking a deep breath, right?

Well imagine in an hour long class if you took a few hundred of those nice deep breaths. Our deep breaths serve to relax our bodies, and at the same time we are offering oxygen to our muscles which they need to keep performing. When we accompany these deeper breaths with movement, we also greatly increase our ability to release and move toxins out of our bodies. There are very specific chemical functions that are constantly taking place in every one of our many billion muscle cells. The amount of oxygen offered to those cells means the difference between stamina and fatigue. So, what sounds better then something that relaxes you, gives you energy and makes you feel clean? Linking breath and movement can do all of this.

Let’s take a look at the basics for practicing Cat/Cow. As you may have guessed, both positions are modeled after an animal, many are in yoga. This being said, we begin by positioning ourselves on all fours, hands and knees.

First, check to see that your knees are placed underneath your hips, your hands are directly underneath your shoulders and your arms are straight. Spread all ten fingers nice and wide, like the rays of the sun, and be sure that you are pressing your entire palm evenly into the ground. Settle in with a flat back, this is your neutral position.

Cat PoseTake a deep slow breath in through your nose, then as you breath out you will be moving into “Cat”. There are three parts in the flow to Cat. First tuck your tailbone, next press into your hands to create a curve in your spine, and last tuck in your chin creating length on the back of your neck. Chin is reaching for navel, and navel pressing towards chin. This is Cat. Like a “Halloween Cat” with an exaggerated curved back. You flow into this on one nice long exhale.

Now we flow into Cow; also three parts. On the beginning of your inhale, untuck your tailbone and reach it towards the sky. Next press your belly and chest towards the earth creating a deep arch in your spine, and last untuck your chin, raising it up towards the sky. The back of your head is reaching for your tailbone.

Cow PoseThis is Cow. The reference for cow is a bit more obscure. Try to imagine a cow with her utters very heavy with milk, and she is sending a powerful “mooooo” up into the sky. Cat/Cows are meant to keep moving. Keep moving and breathing. Exhale deeply through your nose as you press into Cat, exaggerating the movements as your spine allows, and exhale fully as you open up deeply into Cow. How many times? Many times.

Cat/Cows are a great way to warm up your body as you begin your practice. The movements are extremely good for your spine, and especially good for your lower back. There are many ways to play with Cat/Cow, this is just the beginning. For those who are not comfortable on their knees, you can use a chair. Sit, put your  hands on your knees, breath and move your spine forward and back. If you would like to try this sequence, you can do it right now at home, the beach or even sitting in an airplane.

I will be offering these poses in every class this month, with the opportunity to add variations. A yoga practice can be a joyous part of your life, and I hope that I can play a part in opening that up to you. Starting in late April, please join me on the yoga deck at Spa Uno on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 9:00 am. As always, I am available for private group or individual classes. I also offer licensed massage therapy, both Traditional Thai Yoga Massage as well as Deep-Tissue Swedish Massage. Please call or visit my website for further details.