Moving Into Stillness with Erich Schiffmann
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A Few AsanasPrint View

Cat Pose, Mountain Pose, the "ten core poses" (Standing Forward Fold, Standing Side Stretch, Dog Pose, Spread Leg Forward Fold, Bridge Pose, Reclining Leg Stretch, Locust Pose, Sage Twist, Hero Pose, Shoulder Stretches) and the Lotus are presented here.  The other thirty-two poses I recommend can be found in my book.

Always start your yoga practice sitting quietly. These first few minutes provide an interval in which to let go of your usual daily concerns, gather your energy, become centered, and affirm your motivation to practice with one-pointed enthusiasm. During this quiet time be aware of any specific poses you feel like doing. These will come to mind spontaneously, much like the way specific foods come to mind when you think about what to eat. Pay attention to these subtle requests for they will clarify the content of your practice.

Start your session in this fashion:

1 Sitting  Down.   Begin by sitting erect on the floor in any comfortable position.  Take a moment to survey your surroundings.  Feel the energy in the room, observe the colors and shapes, and be aware of how you feel.  Then close your eyes and breathe in deeply, gently.  Savor the air for a moment as you hold your breath, then release it slowly.  Do this three times, reminding yourself that your are an integral part of the universe.  Pay attention to your posture, the feeling-tone of you, and be relaxed and motionless.  Then say a short prayer or invocation, such as "I am grateful for this time of communion and renewal in which I may mediate and practice yoga."

2 Centering Through Breath Awareness.   Then turn your attention inward, sit absolutely still, and become intimately aware of your breathing; practice the Counting Backward exercise or the Mindfulness of Breathing exercise if you find them helpful.  At this point do not control or regulate your breathing.  Allow it to flow freely in and out according to its own natural rhythm.   Note the changing sensations throughout your body that accompany each breath, stay aware of your "now" feeling-tone, and let each breath enhance this awareness.   When your awareness strays, notice it has done so and bring it back to the feeling-tone of your breathing body.  Do this for a minute or two.

3 Deepening The Breath.  Now deepen the breath with the ujjayi throat sound, placing your emphasis on a long, smooth exhalation.  Breathe deeply for about a minute and then begin your asana session.  Carry the centeredness you attain here into the poses, always staying focused on the breath.  All of this can take as little as three or four minutes.

At the end of your asana session when you are resting in either Shavasana or Padmasana, again say a small prayer of thankfulness and immerse yourself in the feeling-tone of you.


The Opening portion of every workout is a time of warming up, setting the tone, coming into the now, and pointing yourself in the correct direction for practice.  There are many possible openings.  They are like chess openings that get you into the game.  They center your attention on the breath and loosen limbs, torso, and spine for the various poses that follow.

Centering. Establishes flow of breath.  Inner attunement.

Cat Pose (Bidalasana)

Cat Pose teaches you to initiate movement from your center and to coordinate your movements and breath. These are two of the most important themes in asana practice.

The alignment of your center depends on the positioning of your pelvis. Therefore, think of your hip positioning as the center of each pose. This is important because your spine is the most significant line of energy in every pose and because the way your spine elongates from your center depends solely oil which way your pelvis is turning. If your sacrum is tilted forward (dog tilt), your spine will project forward before beginning its upward ascent, increasing the curve of your lower back. If your sacrum is tilted backward (cat tilt), your spine will project backward, rounding your lower back.

Every yoga pose involves positioning your pelvis in either "-at tilt," "dog tilt," or "neutral"--or in moving toward one of these or the other. In most poses only one of these choices is appropriate.

Note: As you read these instructions, feel the action being described. Look closely at the photos, imagine yourself doing the pose, and experience it in your body as you read. This will give your muscles, nerves, and cells their first important imprint about how to do the various poses. Then when you actually perform the poses, they will seem familiar, and you will intuitively know what to do. Throughout these instructions, boldface type indicates the most essential information. For quick review read boldface only.

Cat Pose 1 Cat Pose 2 Cat Pose 3 Cat Pose 4

1 Start on your hands and knees. Position your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath the hips. Have your fingers fully spread with the middle fingers pointing straight ahead. Make your back horizontal and flat. Gaze at the floor. This is your "neutral" positioning. When your pelvis is in neutral, your spine will be at full extension, with both the front and back sides equally long.

2 Establish a smooth flowing breath and wait for the inner cue to begin. Consciously produce the ujjayi throat sound and remind yourself that the breath is the life of the pose and the fuel for movement.

3 As you wait for the inner cue, do not sag into your shoulders (photo 1). Instead, create a line of energy through each arm by pressing downward into your hands and  lifting upward out of your shoulders (photo 2).  Go back and forth like this several times to make sure you understand the movement  As you exhale, sag into your shoulders and do the incorrect action; as you inhale, lengthen the arms, lift out of the shoulders and do the correct action.


4 When you are ready to begin, breathe in deeply. As you exhale, turn your hips into "cat tilt" (photo 3). Do this by gently pulling the abdominal muscles backward toward the spine, tucking the tailbone (coccyx) down and under, and gently contracting the buttocks. Press firmly downward with your hands in order to stay lifted out of the shoulders, and press the middle of your back toward the ceiling, rounding your spine upward. Curl your head inward. Gaze at the floor between your knees.

5 Because this is a "closing" movement in which you are reducing lung volume, this movement is done as you exhale. This positioning of your hips (coccyx tucked, sacrum tilting backward) is called "cat tilt." Be here several breaths.


6 As you inhale, turn your hips into "dog tilt" (photo 4). Do this by releasing the grip of the buttocks, reversing the tilt of your pelvis, and curving your spine into a smoothly arched backbend. The pubic bone will move backward through the legs, the sitting bones will turn upward, and the sacrum will change its angle.

Keep the navel backward toward the spine as you do this, and continue pressing downward into your hands to lengthen the arms and stay lifted out of the shoulders. Lift your chest away from the waist, lift your head, slide the shoulder blades down your back, and either gaze at a point on the floor in front of you or upward toward the ceiling - or close your eyes and immerse yourself in the way this feels.

7 Feel the flow of the curve. Increase the curve by tilting your pelvis more and moving the spine deeper into your back, bringing the curve up your back. Do this without sagging into the shoulders. Arch the full length of your spine to its maximum.

8 Because this is an "opening" movement in which you are increasing lung volume and expanding the chest, this movement is done as you inhale This positioning of your hips (buttocks spread, sacrum tilting forward) is called "dog tilt.'' Be here several breaths.

9 The technique involved ill this backward-bending movement is an important action in many of the postures, and you should be careful to learn it correctly. The idea is to curve your spine evenly as you approach your maximum, not to overbend in the lumbar (lower back). Do this by continuing to pull the navel and abdominal muscles backward toward the spine as you tilt the pelvis forward and arch your spine, and then direct the apex of the curve into your upper back and chest - behind your heart - sliding the shoulder blades down your back as you expand your chest and gaze upward.

10 Go back and forth ten times. As you exhale, turn your hips into cat tilt and press the middle of your back toward the ceiling; as you inhale, turn your hips into dog tilt and arch your spine. Go slowly back and forth, coordinating these two movements with your breathing. Match the speed of each movement with the speed of your breathing. Breathe slowly, smoothly, so your movement is slow and smooth. Let the inhalation begin just prior to the movement into dog tilt and finish just after the movement finishes - so the movement is surrounded by air, cushioned. Let the exhalation initiate the movement into cat tilt and come to an end just after the movement is complete. Pause momentarily after inhaling and exhaling. Keep the entire movement full of air.

11 As you move back and forth from cat tilt to dog tilt, sense the breath initiating the movement and the movement originating from your pelvis. Your hips turn first. The movement then flows through your spine and out the crown of your head. Stay smooth. Keep the movement fluid.

12 Be sure you understand this: The movement is sparked by the breath, and the first thing to move is your hips. For example, every time you exhale, you naturally draw your lower abdomen inward, backward toward the spine, tucking the coccyx under. Let that initiate the cat tilt action, and then follow through with the full spinal movement. Initiate the dog tilt phase of the pose in exactly the same way, letting the inhalation spark the movement. Understand that the breath fuels the movement and the movement starts from your center.

13 Come back to neutral and relax.

14 Your hips will always be in cat tilt or dog tilt, or moving toward one of these extremes or the other. It is essential that you learn to translate these two simple movements into every pose you do. Know which way your pelvis should be turning, depending on the pose, and always establish correct alignment at your center. Tilting the sacrurn backward brings the hips toward cat tilt; reversing this brings the hips toward dog tilt.

15 Most backbends will be done with cat tilt, though there are exceptions, because this prevents overbending in the lumbar region of the spine. Forward bending is done with dog tilt because this enables you to hinge forward from your hips without rounding your back.

16 Always "think" from your center. Every line of energy and every breath originates here. Your center is the source of movement The more you move from your center - the more you feel from inside and are sensitive - the more your body will tell you how to do the various poses properly. Only what is right can feel right, and cultivating your feeling-sensitivity will help you tell the difference. This is the key in learning to do yoga.

17 You are your own best teacher, and by maintaining an inner focus you will best learn how to do yoga. Turn your awareness inward, and let this express itself outwardly. Yoga is not mechanical.

Benefits: Cat Pose

Spine and back loosener. Stretches front and back of body, frees neck and shoulders. Teaches correct pelvic movements: cat tilt, dog tilt, neutral. During cat tilt, the back muscles elongate and the abdominal muscles contract; during dog tilt, the back muscles contract and the abdomen stretches; in neutral, the spine is at its longest. Stimulates spinal fluid, digestive tract. Improves circulation through spine and core.

Cat Pose, Mountain Pose, Standing Forward Fold, Standing Side Stretch, Dog Pose, Spread Leg Forward Fold, Bridge Pose, Reclining Leg Stretch, Locust Pose, Sage Twist, Hero Pose, Shoulder Stretches, Lotus

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