yoga teacher trainingBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

Yoga stretching movements are excellent for all kinds of different ailments, aches, and pains. Lower back pain can be extremely debilitating, which can make sitting, standing, and laying down a painful experience. A stretch that rounds the back off, and is especially effective for the lower back, is the cat stretch.

To help with back pain, the cat stretch will need to be practiced on a daily basis. Due to the fact that it is practiced on the hands and knees, investing in a Yoga mat is a wise idea to save the knees from excessive discomfort; one of the keys to making this pose a daily practice is making it as painless as possible.

The cat stretch promotes proper alignment and targets two muscles in particular: the rectus abdominis and the erector spinae. The rectus abdominis is the part of the abdominal muscles that controls the tilt of the pelvis, and the spine, while the erector spinae is a substantial part of the muscle network of the back. Any problems with either one of these two muscles can be a source of lower back pain. Exercises that target these areas, specifically, are especially therapeutic for sufferers of lower back pain.

Performing the Cat Stretch

Step 1: Roll out a Yoga mat onto the floor. If no mat is available, a towel, rug, quilt, or blanket may be substituted. Get down on hands and knees. The spine should be kept in a neutral position (Table pose). The arms should be directly under the shoulders, while knees should be directly under the hips. Knees should be equal to hips in terms of distance apart. Inhale, while holding the Table pose.

Step 2: To move into the Cat Stretch, begin exhaling slowly, curve the spine upward in the direction of the ceiling, tucking the tail bone down, and allowing the head to sag in a relaxed manner, while the chin draws toward your collar bone. The shape of the back and spine should resemble an arch.

Step 3: At the top of the Cat Stretch, draw the navel toward the spine, while keeping the abs tight. Focus on expanding the ribcage, pulling the belly in and up.

Step 4: Inhale and return to the Table Pose, keeping the spine in a neutral position.

This Yoga technique can be repeated as many times as desired, although four repetitions are a good therapeutic start. Remember to avoid overdoing new movements. To counter pose this posture, a back bend is often recommended. The most common counter pose to the Cat Stretch is Cow Pose, which is also practiced on hands and knees, with the spine going into an upward curve. Other back bends to consider are Camel or Fish Pose.

Hatha Yoga for the back is a viable solution for pain reduction or elimination of pain.  At the same time, balancing the muscle tension around the spine may correct the problem at the source.

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