The application of the Cat and Cow Pose

The Cat and Cow Pose is a perfect beginner yoga pose if you are looking to warm up your spine and abdomen. The simple step-by-step instructions would be to to start in “tabletop” position (palms and knees aligned, shoulder distant apart). Center your head in a neutral position, eyes gazing to the floor. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, with shoulders and knees in position. Relax the head toward the floor. Inhaling, lift your hip bones and chest toward the ceiling, with the belly sinking towards the floor. Lift your head to look straight up to the ceiling. Repeat a few more times as desired. To end, exhale, coming back to neutral “tabletop” position.

The muscles:

The cat pose strengthens your abdominal muscles, the rectus and transversus abdominis, the chest area, particularly the pectoralis major and minor and stretches the rhomboids and latissimus dorsi. The cow pose is the reverse, tightening the rhomboids and latissimus dorsi and stretching the abdominal and chest muscles. In addition, it also works on the hip muscles, the iliopsoas and iliacus and the quadratus lumborum.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the Spine: With the repeated movement of the back, the pose strengthens and allow flexibility of the spine to release lower back pains as well as improve posture.
  • Massages your Internal Organs: The pose gently massages and stimulates organs in the belly, particularly the kidneys and adrenal glands. This also helps with the digestion.
  • Women’s Reproductive System: With the repeated movement of the lower back and abdomen, the gentle massage of the muscles around the reproductive system keeps the hormone level in balance and help elevates the cramps during the menstrual cycle.
  • Breathing for Pregnant Women: The inhale and exhale breathing involved keeps the mental state of the woman calm, allowing a better growth of the fetus.

Contraindications:

  • Weak wrists and shoulders: Someone with weak wrists and shoulders move to the simpler version of Seated Cat Cow Pose to avoid injuring the muscles or bones there.
  • Injury at the shoulders: If you have an injury on the shoulders, remember not to put too much pressure during the poses to avoid straining it further. Practice with caution.
  • Pregnant women: Avoid doing this on your own if you are a first time practitioner, as the breathing needs aligned along with the body alignment.

 

The Core Muscle That Truly Matters

For the longest time, I have associated core muscles only with rectus abdominis, otherwise known as ~abs~. We live in a society that glorifies the possession of the so-called ~6-pack~, making it the ultimate goal for any workout, a social trophy that could mean you have strength, endurance, and overall attractiveness. On our 2nd week of YTT, I have learned that it is in fact, only one of the three muscles that make up our core. The other two are transverse abdominis and oblique muscles.

Of the three, the most overlooked is the Transverse Abdominis (TVA). This muscle runs between the ribs and the pelvis, horizontally from front to back, acting as a corset. It’s extremely important as it’s the deepest core muscle, and acts as a support for the entire lower back, stabilizing the trunk while maintaining internal abdominal pressure. Additionally, it increases pressure on the thoracic spine (where the lungs are) to aid in breathing and heart stimulation.

TVA is also responsible in getting yogis to gracefully jump and float into inversion asanas.

TLDR version: the stronger the TVA, the less likely one will experience lower back pain.

Are you someone who, despite doing several crunches and push-ups or other rectus abdominis-defining exercises, still have the abdominal wall bulging forward?
In other words, does your belly pooch seem to not disappear despite doing 1 minute of chaturanga and 100 curl-ups each day? That is a sign of a weak TVA.

When you feel tension in your lower back and hip flexors when you cycle, perform leg lifts, or bridge, it also means you have weak TVA.

Luckily, our ignored and forgotten yet very precious TVA works very efficiently which means you don’t have to put that much physical effort to activate it. In other words, no crunches and push-ups needed.

So, how exactly can you work this muscle?

First things first. Locate your TVA by following these steps:

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, internally rotate your shoulders. Relax your belly completely.
  • Place your fingertips on the boney part of your hips, then move them an inch inwards towards your navel.
  • Feign a cough. Feel that muscle pressing on your fingers? That’s your TVA.

Now, here are a few simple ways to strengthen it. While doing these drills, make sure to consciously feel your TVA being engaged.

 

  • Uddiyana Bandha (Upward binding; navel lock)

Uddiyana bandha is the abdominal lock. It is the second of the three interior body locks used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy (prana) in the body.

Uddiyana Bandha is best practiced first thing in the morning when the stomach is completely empty.

Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale quickly through your nose.

Push as much air as possible out of your lungs by contracting your TVA and two other abdominal muscles.

Perform what’s called a “mock inhalation” by expanding your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but without actually doing so. The expansion of the rib cage creates a hollowing sensation and appearance in the belly.

Read more about its benefits and proper ways of doing it here.

  • Abdominal Bracing (Breathing technique).

Take a deep breath in.

Expand your rib cage.

Pull your rib cage down.

Think about tightening your midsection as if you were just about to be punched in the gut.

 

  • Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana (Bridge Pose)

Lie with your back flat on the floor.

Bend your knees and set your feet parallel on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible.

Pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, push your TVA upward toward the ceiling, firming (but not hardening) the buttocks, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Thighs and feet must be parallel.

Clasp the hands below your pelvis.

 

  • Single Leg Extensions.

Lie down on your back. Keep your spine straight.

Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle and slowly bring one leg down.

Repeat on the other side. Repeat for as many times as you can.

 

  •  Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

Lie on your mat.

Draw your right knee into the chest.

Slowly straighten and extend the right leg up.

Make sure that your arms are straight and shoulders are pressing down.

Repeat on the other side.

 

  • Bitilasana Marjaryasana (Cat and Cow Pose)

Cow- round your back, lift your lower back up, open your chest, look towards the ceiling

Cat- curve your spine, drop your head, push the floor away, contract your TVA, look towards your navel

 

  • Kumbhakasana (Plank)

Position your wrists and elbows directly under your shoulders.

Maintain a straight body line from head to heels.

Contract your TVA.

Lightly squeeze your butt and the fronts of your thighs.

 

Practice doing these asanas everyday and you’ll surely enjoy a more stabilized lower back, and feel better when performing inversion asanas!

ANATOMY- ILIOCOSTALIS

Class batch: RYT200hrs, P/T, Apr – Jun 2017

Project title: Anatomy

Project theme: Iliocostalis

Project by: Andre Neo Tai Chin

I’ve practiced Wall Rope Yoga all along. I was told to ‘Drop down and let go my body’ at the side as one of the poses in Wall Rope Yoga. Everything went smooth until the next day when I was practicing Ashtanga Yoga especially in Paschimattanasana I could feel a sharp pain at my side back muscle and when in all Marichyasana poses the twist made the pain even worse. Subsequently for the next one week, I could not sleep soundly and in pain. On the second week, I decided to find out where was the exact cause of pain at my side back muscle’s pull. 

  With the help of ‘The Key Muscles of Yoga’ reference book, back muscles area is ‘Erector-Spinae’ which has three muscles running parallel to the Vertebral column where one of the muscle is called iliocostalis. Forward bend and supine twist asanas target on Iliocostalis. iliocostalis was the answer to my finding. Now that I’d known the caused of my injury. It would be easier for me to recover using the right method (chinese medicine) to target the pain area. It’ll be a slow process to heal, but no pain, no gain.

I’ve to be careful in the future when it comes to ‘Drop down and let go my body’ pose where my body can take to its maximum in ‘Half way drop down and half way body let go’ kinda pose- literally as a saying…  

Yoga and Psoas Major

Psoas Major

Psoas major is a polyarticular muscle, which runs inside body from lower back bone to its forward inward downward direction, front inner thigh bone, by crossing over pelvis. On its way, Psoas major combinds with Iliacus to form Iliopsoas.

Actions of Psoas major are flexion and external rotation of the hip joint.
Since it is an inner muscle, it is very hard to be aware its working. However, it starts functioning in the early stage of human life because when a baby starst to sit up or crawls it is already awakened.
Iliopsoas (Psoas major together with iliacus) is used constantly when we stand, walk or run in regular basis. But if it is not used for a long time, it will get shorten and contracted because it is a typical posture muscle and made with slow twitch fibers. That’s why those old people who have a sedentary life style have lower back pain.
With almost all asanas you can strengthen or stretch this muscle.

Examples

  • Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana D (strengthen by flexion and lateral rotation of the leg)
  • Virabhadrasana 2 (strengthen by flexing the upper body, forward tilting the pelvis, straightening and supporting the lower back)
  • Ustrasana (stretches by extension of the upper body and contracting hip muscles together with contraction of quadriceps)

Antagonists

l  Gluteus maximus
l  Hamstrings

Synergists

l  Tensor fascia lata
l  Satorius
l  Rectus femoris
l  Pectineus
As part of the iliopsoas, psoas major contributes to flexion and external rotation in the hip joint. On the lumbar spine, unilateral contraction bends the trunk laterally, while bilateral contraction raises the trunk from its supine position.
It forms part of a group of muscles called the hip flexors, whose action is primarily to lift the upper leg towards the body when the body is fixed or to pull the body towards the leg when the leg is fixed or to pull nothing when both legs and body are fixed..
For example, when doing a situp that brings the torso (including the lower back) away from the ground and towards the front of the leg, the hip flexors (including the iliopsoas) will flex the spine upon the pelvis.
Due to the frontal attachment on the vertebrae, rotation of the spine will stretch the psoas.
Tightness of the psoas can result in lower back pain by compressing the lumbar discs