56
THE ASANAS
Seated
Mimicking the slightly dipped back of a cow, this
gentle kneeling pose incorporates a backbend, and is
practiced to warm up the spine, hips, and shoulders.
Inhale as you enter the pose; you can also alternate
between this and Cat pose, in time with your breath.
THE BIG PICTURE
Your abdominal and chest muscles stretch, while your back
muscles—including your spinal extensors—engage. Your rib
cage is expanding, making it possible to inhale fully. A subtle,
even curve is created by the backbend and raised head.
COW
Bitilasana
Even curve
in spine
Fingers spread
and palms
pressing down
Knees hip-
distance apart
Hands
shoulder-
distance
apart
Shoulder
blades squeeze
toward center
ALIGNMENT
Your arms and thighs are fixed in place
with your knees under your hips and
hands under your shoulders (or slightly
forward). Your backbend is as even as
possible, focusing on lengthening your
neck, creating a subtle, even curve.
Especially
even curve
in neck
Rectus abdominis
External obliques
Quadratus lumborum
Gluteus maximus
Rhomboids
Spinal extensors
Serratus anterior
Hips
Spine
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57
Lower arms
Your wrist extensors
extend your wrists while
your wrist exors slightly
stretch while stabilizing.
Neck
Your cervical spinal extensors
engage, while your cervical
exors stretch slightly as you
gently lift your chin. Imagine
there is an egg behind your
neck—avoid cracking it by
resisting hyperextension
(extreme extension).
Upper arms
Your triceps brachii extend
your elbows, while your
biceps brachii stabilize in
a lengthened position.
Torso
Your spinal extensors engage
to extend your spine, while your
abdominals stretch. Your middle
and lower trapezius retract your
scapulae, while your serratus
anterior muscles stabilize.
Palmaris longus
Wrist
Extensor carpi radialis longus
Extensor carpi radialis brevis
Flexor carpi ulnaris
Extensor carpi ulnaris
Flexor digitorum superficialis
Triceps brachii
Pectoralis major
Shoulder
Elbow
Splenius muscles
Longus muscles
Sternocleidomastoid
KEY
Joints
Muscles
Engaging
Engaging while
stretching
Stretching
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58
CAT—COW
Marjaryasana—Bitilasana
CLOSER LOOK
Flowing from the flexion of Cat to the
extension of Cow as you breathe deeply in
and out improves your mind–body connection,
as well as your sense of body awareness.
Mind–body connection
We often think of the brain as controlling
our muscles. This is true: those motor
signals tell your muscles what to do.
However, your nervous system is a two-way
conversation. Your body sends tons of
sensory signals to your brain. Yoga improves
the mind–body connection by encouraging
you to listen to your body.
Middle finger is
facing forward
Ankles and feet
are relaxed (in
plantar flexion)
Spine exion
and extension
When your spine exes, the
front of your body engages while
the back of your body stretches.
When your spine extends, going
into a backbend, the back of
your body engages while the
front of your body stretches.
Your spinal extensors are the
main players in this extension.
ANTERIOR–LATERAL
VIEW OF CAT
Trapezius
stretches
Extension
Flexion
Signals
sent from
muscles
Spinal cord
Brain receives
signals
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59
THE ASANAS
Seated
Sensory cortex
receives signals
from body
Inhale, making
space for air to come
into your lungs
Conscious
pathway
Signals from
body to brain
Inhalation and exhalation
Breathe mindfully, coordinating your breath
and movement; your nervous system loves
this sort of integration. As a general rule,
exhale when your ribcage is compressed (as
in forward folds or twists), and inhale when
your ribcage can expand (as in backbends).
Proprioception
Proprioception is body awareness, particularly while
moving through space. Your cerebellum constantly
receives unconscious signals from your body about
its position, while your cerebral cortex consciously
deciphers where you are in space. Mindfully
owing between poses can help develop
this awareness and improve balance.
Pectoral muscles
stabilize your
shoulders
Kneecap may
need padding,
such as a folded
blanket
Wrists are
extended
Cerebellum
receives signals
Exhale, compressing
your ribcage to
push air out
EXHALE DURING CAT
INHALE DURING COW
ANTERIOR–LATERAL
VIEW OF COW
Eyes open
or closed
Lungs
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