In Pilates, there’s what we call foundational or Fundamental movements. It’s kind of like saying it’s a base movement or “alphabet” from which many other exercises form the “words.” Understand that copying the shape of what you see – even in a group exercise class – is not always the same as actually executing the form the way your instructor would like…ideally. Because the Cat Stretch is such a great exercise, not just for Pilates, but across many disciplines, you can imagine there are many variations on how to perform it. At a glance, it’s a simple pattern of flexion and extension of the spine. Yet you can derive so much more to help you ‘connect the dots’ with Pilates Principles and quality of movement.
These are the most common adjustments I give to people when cueing the Cat Stretch (Neutral and Flexion) so they can achieve greater length in the spine, and connect more precisely with the abdominals.
When you start in the 4-pt kneeling, position the limbs in line with the hip and shoulder joints and imagine that you are lengthening your back along a wall, so that to your best ability you really are square in profile.
Don’t forget your head! Your head is part of your spine – so be sure to align it as well. Think here “Head to Tail is a straight trail.’ If you have trouble with placement, turn your eyes to gaze down just in front of your finger tips.
Fire the core slightly before you move rather than moving right away. Gently contract the transversus abdominis – your “corset” just prior to going into flexion. You’ll get a greater affect because you connect to your abs first (yes, that’s what you want), rather than beelining the energy into your shoulders or glutes, which is common.
Now think of moving from the square-shape to a circle, rather than a dome. There is always the focus of drawing upward with the spine – that’s a given. But you’ll deepen your articulation if you also envision the space in front of your body is where your tailbone is reaching toward the crown of your head. At the same time the neck lengthens and allows your crown to circle down around toward the tailbone.
It’s like you’re wrapping yourself around a great big ball.
Imagine your lower back is filling up with a gust of wind coming from below, and that it opens like a parachute
Avoid collapsing the knee joint and allowing the hips to travel back toward your heels. As with the Articulated Bridge, you’ll want to turn the pelvis like a wheel, into a tuck so that your hip joint opens up, and you maintain position right over the knees.
Keep your abdominal connection to then return your spine to neutral. The exercise is not over until you’ve returned to the start position! And yes, your abdominals can and should participate and provide support when you lengthen your spine.
Like our feline friends, enjoy a Cat Stretch in the morning, then you’ll be ready for your day!
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