Balancing Like A Cat
Posted by terrepruitt on November 20, 2014
Ok, not really, but it seems as if many of us are always seeking balance. Balance in our diets. Balance in our lives between work and play. Balancing our budgets. Balance between saying yes and saying no. Balance within the body between all of the delicate (yet amazingly strong) systems. There is a lot in our lives that require the act of or the state of balance. In Nia we practice balance a lot, in all of the realms: physical/body, mental/mind, emotional/emotions, spiritual/spirit. Yoga practices that balance too. When I ask the students in gentle yoga what they would like to focus on, they often say balance. When we think of balancing or when we think of balance poses we might think of standing poses, but not all balance poses are standing poses. I’ve already posted about the Gate pose in my post titled Finding Balance In The Gate. That pose is done on one knee and one foot. There is also the Extended Cat pose or Utthita Marjaryasana. That is a great balance pose.
One of the reasons Utthita Marjaryasana is such a great balance pose is that being so close to the ground and being on two limbs helps alleviate the fear of falling. Yet it is a balance pose. The two sides of the body have to work together. This pose is done on one hand and one knee, the opposite hand from the knee. We are using opposing limb extension to create a situation in which we need to balance. So if extending left foot, you extend right hand. If extending right foot you extend left hand.
This pose starts on the hands and knees. Often times I have my students start on JUST their knees with their body upright and their thighs lengthened. I like for them to position their knees directly under their hip joints. I also want them to see their thigh bones perpendicular to the floor. When they come down onto their hands I want that 90° angle to remain in the knee joint. So with knees directly under the hip joint and the knee bent at a 90° angle we are on our hands and knees. The wrist are directly under the shoulder joint, palms on the earth. The spine is in neutral position.
In our example we will use the left foot and right hand. Extend the left foot back with the ball of foot on the floor, raise the right arm bringing the hand in front of you to shoulder height. Use the “karate chop” position, so the side of the hand is towards the floor with the thumb side to the sky. Then move your foot so you are only balancing on your big toe. Then, if you are able, use your glutes to lift your leg keeping it in the straight position. Your leg is stretched out behind you, your foot is flexed. Gently reach with your heel away from your extended hand. Gently reach with your extended hand and the crown of your head away from your extended foot.
The hips remain squared to the floor. One reason we slowly move the leg into the lift position is to ensure that the hips remain facing the floor. The top of the foot, along with, the knee faces the floor. The ankle, the knee, and the hip are aligned. I prefer the foot that is on the supporting leg to be top-of-foot on the floor. But you can curl your toes and be on ball of foot.
It also might help during your set up to bring the supporting hand in a little towards the heart center. It should still be even with the shoulder joint; not higher or lower, but it can be toward the center if that gives you more stability.
This is a balance pose so if you looking at one spot on your mat it helps. Also remember to breath.
Once you are comfortable with the pose and can balance on opposing limbs the foot can be lifted off of the floor without going through the steps of “ball of foot” to toe positions.
This pose engages the core, the arms, and the legs. It is great pose to activate the stabilizing muscles.
Do you do the Extended Cat Pose in your practice?