By Mark Goldstein
After sitting in stillness, and setting our breath for our yoga practice, I almost always begin our yoga class with these two postures Cat and Cow. Practicing these poses, which really turn out to be movements, we experience and accomplish many things.
First, and foremost, they just feel really good. Let’s take a look at how we are doing these poses, and then talk about the wonderful benefits.
To begin, we find ourselves on our hands and knees, and we can all this “table top position”. Our arms are nice and straight, and our hands are place directly underneath our shoulders. The palms of our hands are pressing flat, this is very important. We want to notice if there is any space there, especially below the base of our pointing finger or the base of our thumb. If there is, simply press a bit more into those areas. We want a flat palm, with zero space beneath. Fingers are fanned out nice and wide. Our knees are positioned directly below our hips, so check to see if they are further back. If you need to, place extra cushioning beneath your knees. Quick note, if your knees ever hurt in yoga, do something to change that, and then continue. Please do not “work through the pain”.
So, we’re on our hands and knees , table top position, our palms are pressing flat and are beneath our shoulders and our knees, free of any pain, are positioned below our hips. Next, check to see if you can create some more space between your ears and shoulders. If you are sitting reading this, that might now make sense, but as soon as you are trying this, it will. To create this space, press into your PALMS, not your shoulders. Try both, and you’ll feel the difference, and it matters.
Now, we’re ready to move. I am, in general, always writing about a style of yoga named Vinyasa Flow Yoga. Simply put, it means we are always connecting breath with movement, and that is exactly what we will be doing with Cat and Cow, big time.
So, we’re in our Table Top position, and on a nice big inhalation we allow our bellies to drop towards the floor while raising up both our chin and “tail bone”, this is all on the inhale, and causes our spine to arch.
Exhaling, we press into our flat palms while tucking in both our chin and tail bone, thus creating a curve in our spines. Remember to keep pressing into your palms in order to create space between your shoulders and ears, that’s important.
One way to understand why these poses are named the way they are, is to look at it this way. In Cow, when our bellies are sinking towards the floor, it is like a cow that has udders which are heavy with milk. In Cat, we are pressing into our hands and curving our spines like a Halloween cat.
Cat and Cow are meant to be repeated many times. We are breathing and moving. At first we are moving with a bit of caution as we warm up and give respect to any issues we may be experiencing in our backs. After a number of rounds, perhaps five or six or more, we might want to check out moving more deeply into our Cat Cows.
When in Cat, to move more deeply, try to reach your nose towards your belly button and your belly button towards your nose, and press more into your palms. Perhaps leave your breath out for a few moments when in your full expression of the pose.
To express Cow deeper, while you sink your belly, reach the back of your head for your tail bone and your tail bone for the back of your head as you exaggerate the arch in your lower back, perhaps keeping that position for a few beats as you hold your inhalation.
Cat Cows are a great way to warm up for your yoga practice. They are a perfect way to begin to link your breath to your movements, therefore setting the intention for your day’s yoga practice. All of this breath and movement will bring oxygen and synovial fluid to each of the 48 joints in your spine. When we simply move a joint, we encourage the delivery of synovial fluid to that joint, and this fluid is the lubricant that our joints need to keep healthy, happy and working properly.
If your back feels like it needs “oil”, if its creaky and cranky, do these Cat Cows, it will make a difference.
So, our pose(s) of the month for this July are Cat and Cow.
Enjoy them, do them, and if you are interested in further instruction, then I am available as your yoga instructor. I offer private one on one and private group classes, as well as Thai Yoga Massage sessions here at our retreat, Prana Rainforest Retreat, or I can come to you.
Thanks for reading, and I hope that this finds you having a wonderful Costa Rican day!