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The Health Benefits of Cat-Cow Stretch

            Cat-Cow Stretch is the incorporation of Marjaryasana (Cat Pose) and Bitilasana (Cow Pose). The two asanas are paired together for a gentle, flowing vinyasa. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, vinyasa is defined as “breath-synchronized movement.” If you practice Vinyasa Yoga, you will move from one pose to the next as you inhale or exhale; that is, your movements will match your breathing.

Getting Into Cat-Cow:

Begin on your hands and knees in Table Pose. Your hips should be set directly over your knees and your shoulders, elbows, and wrists should be in line and perpendicular to the floor. Keep your back straight (like a tabletop) and your spine in a neutral position. Let your neck be long and your eyes soft, looking at the floor. Stabilize your shoulder blades by drawing them down your back.

Once you have established Table Pose, move into Cow Pose. As you inhale, simultaneously lift your sit bones upward, press your chest forward, and allow your belly to sink towards the floor. Lift your head, relax your shoulders away from your ears, and gaze straight ahead.

As you exhale, come into Cat Pose. Simultaneously round your spine outward, tuck your tailbone, and draw your pubic bone forward. Release your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest. Note: if you have a neck injury, keep your head in line with your torso throughout Cat-Cow.

Go back and forth between Cow and Cat on each inhale and exhale, matching your movements to your own breathing. Do this for 5-10 breaths and try to keep an even distribution of weight between your hands and knees. After your final exhale, end the stretch in Table Pose.

Benefits of Cat-Cow:

  • Improves posture and balance
  • Strengthens and stretches the spine and neck
  • Stretches the hips, abdomen and back
  • Increases coordination
  • Massages and stimulates organs in the belly, like the kidneys and adrenal glands
  • Creates emotional balance
  • Relieves stress and calms the mind

The Health Benefits of Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand Pose)

The benefits are practically endless with this one. We at CNY Healing Arts urge you to read up on Salamba Sirsasana! Whether your practice it against a wall or alone, if you practice it regularly, you are bound to literally turn your world upside down (and reap the rewards of it). A little peace of mind: if you are in correct alignment, the center of your foot arches should align over the center of your pelvis, which should both align over the crown of your head.

Getting Into Supported Headstand Pose:

Begin by padding your head and forearms with a sticky mat or folded blanket. Come to your hands and knees with wrists underneath shoulder and knees underneath hips. Bring your elbows to the floor and keep them shoulder-width apart.

Interlace your fingers, roll your upper arms outward a bit, and actively press your inner wrists to the floor. Then, place the crown of your head on the floor. Cup the back of your head with your hands laced, keeping your arms in position.

Bring your hips upward as if your lower half were in Downward Dog. Walk your feet closer to your elbows, heels elevated, until your hips are over your shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back and toward your tailbone in order to keep the torso elongated and protect your neck and head.

Now, exhale and lift both feet away from the floor at the same time (even if you need to bend your knees a bit and hop lightly off the floor). As you straighten your spine, firm your tailbone against the back of your pelvis. Rotate the thigh bones slightly inward and reach up through the balls of your feet.

Press your forearms down strongly to avoid supporting your weight with your neck and head. Keep the weight balanced evenly between on your two arms. If you came up with knees bent, straighten them now.

If you are just beginning to practice Salamba Sirsasana, stay in pose for 10 seconds. Come down exhaling, keeping your shoulder blades firm. Touch both feet to the floor at the same time. If you plan on practicing this posture often, add 5 to 10 seconds onto your stay each time you are in Supported Headstand. Once you are able to stay for 3 minutes, continue at that stay length for the next 7-15 times you practice this pose. Then, begin your steady increase until you reach a stay of 5 minutes.

Benefits of Supported Headstand Pose:

  • Stimulates pituitary and pineal glands, which aid growth and the production of sex hormones
  • Strengthens the spine, neck, shoulders, and arms
  • Tones the legs and abdominals
  • Relieves a buildup of fluid in the legs and feet
  • Allows a healthy, pure blood flow to brain cells
  • Stimulates the nervous system
  • Aids in the treatment of headaches, anxiety, asthma, sinusitis, hay fever, depression, diabetes, insomnia, and symptoms of menopause
  • Increases mental awareness and clarity
  • Calms and soothes the mind
  • May reverse the effects of lethargy, sleep loss, and memory loss
  • Stimulates and strengthens the lungs, facilitating healthy breathing
  • Improves posture and digestion
  • Aids in the relief of tonsillitis, persistent coughing, common cold, bad breath, and palpitations
  • Helps overcome problems of the liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines, and reproductive organs by reversing the pull of gravity

The Health Benefits of Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose)

In Sanskrit, “ut” means intense, “tan” means to stretch or extend and “asana” means pose. In English, we call this pose the Standing Forward Bend. But in any language, this incredibly beneficial posture is both therapeutic and revitalizing. In Uttanasana, your head is below your heart. This allows the unusual occasion for blood to rush to your head (rather than your feet), giving your cells a rejuvenating boost of oxygen.

To practice Uttanasana with a licensed yoga practitioner, check out our yoga class schedule for each branch of CNY Healing Arts: located in Syracuse, Rochester, and Albany.

Getting Into Standing Forward Bend Pose:

Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Rest your hands on your hips, exhale, and bend forward from the hip joints rather than the waist. Draw your belly slightly in and focus on lengthening your front torso as you go deeper in Uttanasana.

Keeping your knees straight, place your fingertips or palms on the floor beside your feet, or touch the back of your ankles with your palms. To modify this movement, cross your forearms and hold your elbows.

To help tone your thighs, press your heels into the floor, lift your sit bones toward the sky, and turn the tops of your thighs slightly inward. Let your head hang loose, releasing all tension in your back and shoulder blades.

Try lengthening the front torso a little bit more on each inhale. On each exhale, release fully into the bend. Stay in this posture for 30 seconds to 1 minute. To come out of Uttanasana, bring your hands back to your hips and rotate at the hip joints until you stand strong and tall. Do not simply roll your spine up.

Benefits of Standing Forward Bend Pose:

  • Stretches the hips, hamstrings, and calves
  • Strengthens the thighs and knees
  • Keeps your spine strong and flexible
  • Reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue
  • Calms the mind and soothes the nerves
  • Relieves tension in the spine, neck, and back
  • Activates the abdominal muscles
  • Eases symptoms of menopause, asthma, headaches, and insomnia
  • Stimulates the kidneys, liver, spleen
  • Improves digestion
  • May lower high blood pressure
  • Therapeutic for infertility, osteoporosis, and sinusitis

The Health Benefits of Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

We know this one can be killer, but it’s definitely worth it. Do you know what “utkata” means in Sanskrit? It means fierce, and “asana” means pose. We get Chair Pose from the fact that you mimic the position of sitting in a chair. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to tone those tired legs, Utkatasana can bring out your fierce side!

To emphasize the health benefits of this posture, you can try a more advanced variation. Once you are in position, brings your hands together at your heart like you are praying. Twist to the right side, keeping the left elbow outside the right knee. Stay low and keep the knees pressed together. Come back to center and repeat on the opposite side.

Getting Into Chair Pose:

Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Stand with your big toes touching, heels slightly apart. Lift and spread your toes. Feel yourself rooted to the ground. Now, raise your arms above your head, perpendicular to the floor. Either keep your arms parallel, palms facing inward, or touch your palms together.

Bend your knees and bring your thighs as parallel to the floor as possible. Your knees should come out over your feet and your torso should lean forward over the thighs, more or less forming a right angle with them. Keep your back long, with a slight curve in it, and keep the inner thighs parallel to each other.

To intensify your thigh work-out, try squeezing a yoga block or holding a thick book between them. Let your shoulder blades relax down your back. Stay in this posture for 5 to 10 long, deep breaths. To come out of Utkatasana: inhale, straighten your knees, exhale and release your arms to your sides. You are now back in Tadasana.

Benefits of Chair Pose:

  • Tones the leg muscles excellently
  • Strengthens hip flexors, ankles, calves, and back
  • Stretches chest and shoulders
  • Reduces symptoms of flat feet
  • Stimulates the heart, diaphragm, and abdominal organs

Health Benefits of Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose)

Also known as Inverted Lake, this mild inversion is known for a wide range of health benefits as well as its anti-aging effects. Old Hindu scriptures claim that Viparita Karani hides wrinkles in addition to banishing old age and death.

The restorative nature of this posture gets blood flowing to parts of the body that need it, making it good for most any ailment including arthritis, high or low blood pressure, respiratory ailments, and menopause. To practice this pose with a specialist at CNY Healing Arts, check out our yoga class schedule for each location.

Getting Into Legs Up the Wall Pose:

Start by collecting the items your will need for this session, which ideally includes a yoga mat, yoga block, and two small towels. Lie on the floor near a wall and practice deep, steady breathing. Exhale and swing your legs up onto the wall so that your heels and sitting bones are supported against it. If you have any discomfort in your lower back, adjust your body slightly back from the wall so that your sitting bones are not touching it. Rest your head on the mat or floor, keeping your spine straight, and bend your knees a little so your kneecaps won’t lock.

When using support: If you have any lower back pain, support your body by placing a yoga block or folded blankets on the ground beneath your back. When positioning your support, you must consider its height and its distance from the wall. Be honest with yourself to avoid straining any muscles! If you are not very flexible, your support should be lower to the ground and farther from the wall. If you are flexible, keep your support higher and closer to the wall. Your sitting bones do not need to be against the wall, rather “dripping” down into the space between the wall and your support. Keep a gentle arc in your torso from the pubis to the top of the shoulders.

If your neck feels strained, place a small, rolled-up towel under it. Cover your eyes with the other towel and keep your them closed for 5 – 15 minutes as you soften and release. Rest your arms out to your sides. Open your shoulder blades away from the spine, relaxing your hands and wrists. Keep your legs held vertically in place, but only partially flexed.

Release the weight of your belly toward the back of the pelvis, deeply into the torso. Soften the eyes and turn them down towards your heart. After you come out of this restorative pose, be sure to lie on your side for a few breaths before sitting upright with your back against the wall, then slowly rising to your feet.

Benefits of Legs Up the Wall Pose:

  • Regulates blood flow
  • Alleviates menstrual cramps
  • Relieves swollen ankles and varicose veins
  • Helps testicular, semen, and ovarian problems in men and women respectively
  • Improves digestion
  • Restores tired feet or legs
  • Stretches the back of the neck, front torso, and back of the legs
  • Improves problems of the eyes and ears
  • Relieves mild backache
  • Provides migraine and headache relief, especially when done with a bandage wrapped tightly around the forehead and back of the skull
  • Helps keep you young and vital
  • Calms anxiety
  • Relieves symptoms of mild depression and insomnia

The Health Benefits of Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)

As you perform Bridge Pose, you will become more alert in both body and mind. This rejuvenating backbend will open your chest up and keep your spine flexible. While beginners can practice it safely, skilled practitioners can still experience its many benefits. Setu Bandhasana will also help to prepare you for more intense backbends.

This posture is relatively simple and quite exhilarating. If you find it difficult to hold the lift in your pelvis, slide a block or bolster beneath your sacrum and rest the pelvis on it for support. In contrast, if you are looking to deepen the stretch, lift your heels off the floor once in Bridge Pose and push your tailbone up towards the pubis. Once the tailbone is lifted, stretch the heels back to the floor.

Getting Into Bridge Pose:

Lie flat on your back with arms at your sides, palms down. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Keep your feet hip width apart, parallel to each other, and as close to the buttocks as possible. Simultaneously, press your upper arms and feet into the floor and begin lifting your hips towards the ceiling. Try to distribute your weight equally on the inside and outside of your feet.

Now, move your breastbone towards your chin, keeping your chin lifted only slightly as not to flatten the back of the neck. Firm your tailbone in towards the pubis and move your pubis slightly towards the belly. In order to keep the lower back extended, keep the knees over the ankles, perpendicular to the floor. Your buttocks should be firm, but not clasped.

Lift your hips as high as you are able without breaking position. If you are having trouble holding posture, you can clasp your hands behind your back and firm you arms into the floor, shoulder blades shifted down along the spine. Hold this pose for 5 to 15 breaths.

To come out of Bridge Pose, release on an exhalation, rolling your spine slowly down onto the floor.

Benefits of Bridge Pose:

  • Stretches the chest, neck, spine, and hips
  • Strengthens the back, buttocks, and hamstrings
  • Improves circulation of blood
  • Helps alleviate stress and mild depression
  • Calms the brain and central nervous system
  • Stimulates the lungs, thyroid glands, and abdominal organs
  • Improves digestion
  • Helps relieve symptoms of menopause
  • Reduces backache and headache
  • Reduces fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia
  • Rejuvenates tired legs
  • Relieves symptoms of asthma and high blood pressure
  • Therapeutic for hypertension, osteoporosis, and sinusitis

The Health Benefits of Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

Our staff at CNY Healing Arts presents you with one of our favorite asanas. What we love about camel pose is that, when performed correctly, nearly all the major muscles of our bodies are being stretched. In addition, it stimulates and tones many of our limbs, including the chest, abdomen, and thighs. In short, the front side of our bodies are getting fully involved. Note that beginners should only hold this posture for about 20 seconds to avoid straining anything.

Ustrasana work subtly, but brilliantly, to improve conditions of the digestive, respiratory, endocrine, lymphatic, skeletal, and circulatory systems. This posture is recommended for people suffering from asthma, bronchitis, diabetes, thyroid and parathyroid disorders, spondylitis, and voice disorders. Doctors may also suggest camel pose to people who have constipation, colitis, dyspepsia, obesity of the thighs or arms, and Genito-urinary disorder of the kidney, urinary bladder, ovaries, testes and prostate. In Sanskrit, “ustra” means camel and “asana” means pose, hence the English name.

Getting into Camel Pose:

Begin Ustrasana by kneeling on the floor or a yoga mat. If your knees are sensitive, kneel on extra padding. Make sure your knees are hip width apart and thighs are perpendicular to the floor. The soles of your feet should face upward, toenails touching the floor. Place your palms on your hips and try to keep your outer hips as soft as possible. Breathe deeply.

Use your hands to lengthen your back pelvis and draw the tailbone towards the pubis. Inhale and lift your heart by pressing your shoulder blades to the back of your ribs. Begin to arc your back. Withdraw your arms one at a time from your hips and place them on your heels. Press your palms firmly against your heels to keep from losing your balance. Turn your arms outward so that the elbow creases face forward. Arch your back until your arms are straight. Imagine that there is a string tied around your waist that pulls you upward towards the sky.

If you find it difficult to keep your thighs perpendicular to the floor, try tilting the thighs backward individually as you touch hand to heel, using entirely the left or right side limbs. Press each thigh back into perpendicular position before joining the opposite hand and heel. Furthermore, if you cannot touch your feet without compressing your lower back, turn your toes under and raise your heels.

You can keep your neck at a neutral position, neither flexed nor extended, or drop your head back. Be careful not to strain your neck or tighten your throat. Maintain this posture for 30 seconds to a minute. Breathe calm and deep.

Benefits of Camel Pose:

  • Reduces fat on thighs
  • Opens up the hips, stretching deep hip flexors
  • Stretches and strengthens the shoulders and back
  • Expands the abdominal region, improving digestion and elimination
  • Improves posture
  • Opens the chest, improving respiration
  • Loosens up the vertebrae
  • Relieves lower back pain
  • Helps to heal and balance the chakras
  • Strengthens thighs and arms
  • Improves flexibility, especially in the spine
  • Stimulates endocrine glands
  • Releases tension in the ovaries
  • Stretches the ankles, thighs, groin, abdomen, chest, and throat
  • Cures constipation
  • Tones organs of the abdomen, pelvis, and neck
  • Complements overall health and well-being

The Health Benefits of Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)

We at CNY Healing Arts invite you to try out our version of Happy Baby Pose, also known as Dead Bug Pose. When performed correctly, this posture can provide significant relief to lower back pain or discomfort. The best part about it: as you lie there, this supine stretch works out kinks in your hips, back, and buttocks.

Precautions should be taken when doing Happy Baby or Dead Bug, especially if you suffer from a prior knee or neck injury. A prop, such as a folded blanket, may be used to support the neck while in this pose. Furthermore, a woman should not perform Ananda Balasana while pregnant, unless a skilled yoga practitioner modifies the pose for her separately.

Getting into Happy Baby Pose:

Begin by laying flat on your back. Exhale and bend the knees into the belly. Inhale and grip the outside of each foot with the corresponding hand. If you are performing Dead Bug Pose, hold on to the inside of each foot instead. If you find it difficult to grip your feet, try looping a belt or yoga strap over each sole and holding on to the ends of it. Open your knees slightly wider than your torso and bring them up towards your armpits. If you are performing Dead Bug Pose, your

Stack each ankle directly over the knee so that the shins are perpendicular to the floor. With gentle movements, push your feet up into your hands and pull down with your hands to create resistance. Flex your feet. Lengthen your spine as you bring your thighs into your torso and towards the floor.

Hold this posture for 30 seconds to a minute. Exhale and release the feet back to the floor. Rest for a few breaths before moving on.

Benefits of Happy Baby Pose:

  • Releases lower back and sacrum
  • Opens hips, inner thighs, and groin
  • Stretches the hamstrings
  • Relieves lower back pain
  • Stretches and soothes the spine
  • Calms the brain
  • Helps relieve stress and fatigue