If you ever shared your home with a cat you probably already know that cats are natural yogis. Cat’s spine is anatomically so much different than the human spine. As you have surely seen it already cats are insanely flexible. And it’s all because of how their spine is constructed. A cat’s spine can rotate more than the spines of most other animals, and their vertebrae have a special, flexible, elastic cushioning on the disks, which gives it even more flexibility. A flexible spine also contributes to the speed and grace of cats. Those are all the reasons why our beloved cats can easily do all those twists and spins, we can’t even imagine to do ourselves.
1. Cat-Cow Pose
So the first lesson your yogi cat can teach you is that flexible spine is a healthy spine. Back pain is a number one consequence of sedentary lifestyle. We spend hours sitting on uncomfortable chairs. Stiff back, bad posture, back pain, those are all signs that your spine suffers. This is where yoga can be useful. Cat-Cow Pose is great for beginners in yoga.
Stand on your hands and knees. Your knees should be hip-width distance and your hands should be directly below your shoulders. Your spine is neutral here. Begin by moving into Cow Pose. Inhale as you drop your belly towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling. Soften your elbows, so there is a slight bend, engaging the arm muscles as you spread your fingertips wide. Draw your shoulders away from your ears. From the extension of cow pose, start to draw the navel to the spine, bringing the back through a neutral tabletop. As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. The pose should look like a cat stretching its back. Use the exhale to initiate this movement, following the exhale to the last drop. Keep the fingers spread wide as you push the floor away, rounding the back. Let the head drop without forcing the chin into the chest, completing the arch in the spine. Try a few slow rounds of Cat-Cow Pose when you wake up in the morning, or after sitting for a long period.
The Cat-Cow Pose is a gentle flow between two poses that warms the body and brings flexibility to the spine. It stretches the back torso and neck, and softly stimulates and strengthens the abdominal organs. It also opens the chest, encouraging the breath to become slow and deep.
2. Be gentle on your knees and joints
Have you ever watched a cat move? It’s always so gently, quietly and with much elegance. That’s an important lesson whether you’re a professional athlete or a recreational runner. When doing jumps or runs pay attention to your form. Incorrect form can cause injuries. If you’re doing cardio or HIIT be considerate and always land softly on balls of your feet. Your knees and joints will be grateful.
3. Child’s Pose
Cats can sleep as much as 16 hours a day. After those long naps, the first thing a cat will do is to stretch. Cats stretch to get their muscles moving again after periods of inactivity, whether they’ve been sitting still or sleeping. That is why throughout the day you can see your cat doing something in yoga known as Child’s Pose.
Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels. Then separate your knees about as wide as your hips. Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs. Your heart and chest should rest between or on top of your thighs. Allow your forehead to come to the floor. Keep your arms long and extended, palms facing down. Press back slightly with your hands to keep your pelvis in contact with your heels. Lengthen from your hips to your armpits, and then extend even further through your fingertips. Another option is to bring your arms back to rest alongside your thighs with your palms facing up. Completely relax your elbows.
Child’s Pose is a simple way to calm your mind, slow your breath, and restore a feeling of peace and safety. Practicing the pose before bedtime can help to release the worries of the day. Practicing in the morning can help you transition from sleeping to waking. Use Child’s Pose throughout your practice whenever you need a break between poses or if you get out of breath. Return to the practice when you are ready.
4. Sphinx Pose
Sphinx Pose is a very common pose for a resting cat. When it comes to Sphinx Pose in the shape of an exercise, there are so many modifications. You can try whichever one suits best your current abilities. Whether it be a more passive or more active variation.
Lie on your belly, with the forearms flat on the floor, elbows under the shoulders, chin on the floor and legs together. Rotate your thighs inwardly by rolling your outer thighs toward the floor. Reach actively through your toes to the wall behind you. As you move into the pose, be sure to continue lengthening your tailbone toward your heels to protect your lower back. Press the forearms down into the floor and inhale and lift the head and chest off of the floor, keeping the neck in line with the spine. Stay for three to ten breaths, then exhale and slowly release your belly and lower your torso and head to the floor. Turn your head to one side. Lie quietly for a while, broadening your back with each inhale, and releasing any tension with each exhale. Repeat once or twice more if you like.
For a more active modification, you can hold forearm plank for 30 or 60 seconds.
Sphinx Pose has many benefits for your body. It strengthens the spine, stretches chest and lungs, shoulders, and abdomen. If you can hold forearm plank you will strengthen your ab muscles and core. A strong core means more support and stability for your spine. And that is important when it comes to lower back pain because one way you avoid painful back is to have a stronger core.
5. Seated Forward Bend Pose
Your cat is a born contortionist but you’re probably not. So if you’re not naturally gifted with a very good flexibility in your hamstrings and thighs, you’ll probably have to practice this pose to achieve best results.
Sit on the floor with your buttocks supported on a folded blanket and your legs straight in front of you. Press your heels actively down into the ground and flex your feet. Inhale to extend your arms up overhead and sit tall. As you exhale, hinge at your hips to fold forward over your legs, maintaining a sense of length along your spine. Lead with your heart and let the hands hold on to whatever is accessible while keeping a flat upper back: the calves, ankles, or perhaps even the outer edges of the feet if you can reach. Don’t force this stretch. Practice and you will get more flexible every time. Avoid the tendency to collapse the chest and round the spine here in an effort to move deeper into your fold. Keep your shoulders back and relaxed away from your ears. With every inhale, find more length along your spine and front body; with every exhale, move more deeply into your forward fold. If the hamstrings are feeling unhappy, try using a folded blanket, foam block or bolster just underneath the sit bones to offer some lift and support. If it feels challenging to reach for the feet, loop a strap around the balls of the feet and hold on to the ends of the strap with your arms fully extended. Keep your spine long and your chest lifted, and walk your hands lightly along the strap as you start to open up rather than using the strap to pull your upper body forward.
This pose stretches the spine, shoulders, and hamstrings. It also helps to calm the brain and relieve any kind of stress.
And if you need some new refreshing yoga sequences for all moods, body parts, and levels of yoginess, check out Yoga with Adriene.