Fitness Magazine

Friday Q&A: Cat-Cow, Back Extensor Muscles, and Mountain Pose

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
Following on the heels of one of our recent posts about osteoporosis (OP) came this inquiry about some suggestions for particular asanas:
Q: What about the cat pose in cat/cow sequence? Can you make any possible modification in focusing more on rounding the fanny end of the spine, rather than the shoulders?  Best poses for back extensor strengthening? Anything that reinforces Tadasana?
A: Even though the motivation for asking for these three suggestions may not have been directly related to osteoporosis, Cat/Cow is great as a weight-bearing posture for strengthening the wrist bones.  Poses that strengthen the back torso extensor muscles, which attach all along the spinal column, would strengthen the bones of the spine. And Mountain pose (Tadasana) done with engaged leg muscles is weight-bearing on the feet, so could translate into strengthening of the bones of the legs and hips. That said, let’s now look at the specific issues at hand:
Starting with Cat pose in the dynamic practice of Cat/Cow, we usually encourage the spine to round evenly toward the ceiling, keeping the arms engaged and elbows straight, releasing the crown of the head towards the floor, and tipping the pelvic backwards into retroversion, with the sit bones and tail bones turning down.  If you observe a group of students doing this, you will see some students who seem to have more movement and rounding in the upper back and some who seem to have more in the lower back. There can be many reasons for this, which we won’t go into today, but if you want to emphasize the pelvic tuck and lumbar flexion part of the formula, you might try the following at home:
  1. Find a landing that is just one step off the floor.
  2. Come into hands and knees position, with your knees and shins on the low landing and your hands down on the floor.
  3. Practice Cat/Cow as usual, and see if you don’t have more awareness of the lower back and pelvis. If you are not sure, switch it around with shins on the floor and hands on the landing and see what you feel.
Also, more actively hollowing the lower belly up towards the spine as you exhale into Cat shape can bring more rounding of that “fanny end” of the spine. Finally, doing the pose positioned sideways to a mirror that gives you visual feedback can help you see where you tend to have more movement, and you may be able to play around and bring more movement into the lower half of the spine.
The back extensor muscles, which line the entire back of the head to tailbone region of body, primarily take the spine into back bending actions, but can also contribute to some rotation of the spine, as well as side-bending. If we just consider the back bending actions of these muscles, anything from the obvious Cobra, Locust, Upward-Facing Dog, and Bridge poses and on into the more advanced backbends will strengthen the back extensor muscles nicely. And you can play with both dynamic or static versions of these poses as I have written about previously. And even a pose like Warrior 2, with a slight feeling of backbend and rotation, will work these muscles likely. Also, every time you come up from Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) to arms overhead, as you do in Sun Salutations, you are activating your extensors nicely. Use your deductive skills to look at other poses and see if you can imagine the extensors in action as well.  There are lots more in addition to those I have mentioned.
And as for ways of reinforcing the alignment of Mountain pose (Tadasana), I like to do a reclining versions of this pose, on the back, with the feet pressing into the baseboard of a wall, putting even pressure in the balls and heels of the feet. I also recommend standing with the back to a wall, with the heels close to the wall—perhaps just a few inches away—and with the buttocks flesh lightly touching the wall. Depending on the build of your chest, your shouldblades may or may not touch the wall. From this position, lengthen up to the crown of the head.  Also, all of the poses that strengthen your extensors, as discussed above, are helpful for achieving better posture in Mountain pose. I like to do Locust pose (Salabhasana) first dynamically (moving in and out with the breath) and then held for several breaths, and then practice Mountain pose to see if there is a change in posture.
Give all this a try in your next home practice and see how it all feels to you.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog