If you come to a class with me, whether it is a flow style or a beginner alignment focused class, there is a VERY good chance that we will do cat/cow stretches while we warm up and wake up all the muscles that may have become stagnant through the day. I am such a fan of this stretch! It feels amazing after a day of sitting at a desk, it stretches open the front and back body, and it provides a great opportunity to begin coordinating the movement of your body with your breath. I also love that from this simple stretch, I can add a number of variations based on the theme or style of the class I am teaching. Keep reading to find out how to move into Cat and Cow and a couple of it's variations. Be sure to check out the video at the end for some visual cues! (Note: This was my first attempt at a Yoga Tutorial video... so be kind ;))
*Note: Some of the variations may be slightly more challenging for a beginner - if you are unsure about them, give them a try and just do your best!
Step One: Begin in a table top position, keeping a neutral spine, with wrists lined up under shoulders and knees lined up under the hips. The tops of the feet can rest on the mat. Take a deep, full body inhale.
Step Two: As you exhale, begin to curl the spine up towards the sky - creating a rounded spine. As you round through the spine, allow the tail-bone to release down toward the mat and round the shoulders, releasing the head slightly toward the floor. This is cat spine.
Step Three: As you take your next deep inhale, release your belly toward the floor. As the belly releases toward the floor the tail-bone reaches up to the ceiling and your collar bones lift up, shifting your gaze upward. This is cow spine.
Step Four: Breathe and Stretch
Continue moving through these two poses, stretching through the front and back body, as you continue to breathe.
NOTE: if you have knee problems, you can do these two spinal motions while sitting on the floor or on a chair. You may also find it helpful to place a blanket under the knees during this whole sequence.
Balancing Cat: Bringing the spine back to a neutral position, engage through the core and hug the belly up toward the spine. Stretch the right leg back behind you, pressing through the heel of the foot, keeping the leg in line with the body - not lifting high or drooping too low. As you find your balance extend the left arm out, keeping it in the same line as the body, extending through the finger tips. Breathe here as you balance.
Balancing Cat Pulling it's tail ;): From Balancing Cat, keeping the leg lifted, begin to bend the knee, bringing the foot up toward the sky. Turn the arm so the palm faces out and the thumb is pointing down toward the ground. Sweep the arm back to catch the foot. Press the foot back into the hand, so you feel the stretch in the front of the thigh and the arm stays extended. Feel the stretch through the front of the chest as the arm stretches back. Turn your gaze upward if it feels ok on your neck.
If you or someone you know finds these tutorials helpful, you will probably love the Your Best Yoga Beginner Class - Register now! :)