Dancing Cat

Dancing cat is a great way to strengthen low back muscles without hyper-extending the spine, which can be uncomfortable for many people. Start on all fours. As you inhale, extend your left leg behind you.

Leg extended

Inhale entend the leg out behind.

As you exhale, draw the knee toward the nose and the nose toward the knee underneath the body. Round the spine as if finding cat pose  to fire up the abdominals.

Knee to nose, nose to knee.

Bring the knee in toward the nose and the nose in toward the knee.

As you inhale, extend chest bone forward and the left leg back, noticing how your low back muscles contract.

Repeat this three to eight times, then switch sides.

Twisty Balance Flow

In vinyasa or hatha flow classes, the magic comes as much from how you sequence the poses as from the poses themselves. I picked up this flow from Elizabeth, one of my favourite teachers in San Francisco. To get the full benefit of the postures, make sure to hold each one for three to five breaths.

Start in triangle pose (trikonasana), making sure both sides of the torso (even the bottom side) are long. You can look down, to the side, or up, but really extend forward through the crown of the head. Think about rolling your top hip back. Breathe.


Start in triangle pose.

Prepare for revolved triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana). As you exhale, bring the top hand to the ground or a block. As you inhale, take the other hand to the hip or extend it skyward, revolving the chest toward the front inner thigh. Keep both sides of the torso long. The head can look down, forward, or up. Breathe here.

Revolved Triangle

As you exhale, bring the top hand down to the ground or a block. As you inhale, extend into revolved triangle.

Prepare for revolved half moon (Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana). Slightly bend the front knee and begin to shift the weight forward. Contract the abdominals and as you inhale, lift the back foot off the ground.

Transition from revolved triangle to revolved half moon

As you inhale, begin to lift into revolved half moon.

Keep the torso revolved; eventually the front of the chest may be completely perpendicular to the ground. The bottom hand can be on the floor or on a block, and the top hand can be on the top hip, or extended skyward. Try to get the back leg parallel to the ground with the foot flexed. Breathe.

Revolved half moon

Revolved half moon.

Prepare to transition to sitting. Contract your abdominal muscles, and as you exhale, bend into both knees. Bring the top knee behind of the bottom ankle, and sit down between the feet.

Transition to seated

As you exhale, transition from revolved half moon to a seated preparation for half twist.

Make sure both sit bones are rooted, preparing for half twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana). As you exhale, turn the chest toward the top knee and place the back hand behind you. Inhale extend the other hand skyward, and then take the hand or elbow to the knee.

Seated preparation for twist

Prepare for half twist.

As you inhale lengthen upwards through the spine, as you exhale twist. Don’t only think about turning the head and eyes back, think about rotating the whole chest. Breathe here.

Half Twist.

Inhale lengthen upwards through the spine, exhale twist.

As you inhale, return the torso back to neutral, and prepare to return to a standing balance. Ground down through the foot of the top leg. Contract the abdominals, and as you inhale, begin to straighten that top leg leg and lift the other leg off the ground.

Return to standing

Inhale, return to standing.

Transition into standing splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana). It’s tempting to roll one hip higher than the other, but try to keep the hips square to the floor. As you inhale, lift the back leg up as high as possible while keeping the hips in alignment. If you have the flexibility, as you exhale, draw the chest in toward the quadriceps (front on the thigh). The hand can be on a block or on the floor, or you can have one hand or both grasping the ankle to challenge balance. Make sure to keep breathing.

Standing splits

Inhale, lift the back leg upwards. Exhale, gently pull the chest in toward the thigh.

I’ll let you decide where to go from here, but make sure you make your way to the other side to balance it out. For example, in a vinyasa class you could release half splits into a forward fold, step/hop back to chuttarunga and cycle through a vinyasa (upward facing dog, downward facing dog). From downward dog, you could then step forward into a lunge, giving you an easy transition into triangle pose on the other side. For the most balanced overall routine, you should make sure to enter triangle in the same way on both sides.

Monkey Tail

There are quite a few variations on hip flexion and extension flows from down dog. Here’s one called Monkey Tail. Start in Downward Facing Dog. As you inhale, lift one of the legs up toward the ceiling, bending into the knee as you lift. As you do this, pull the chest bone towards the front of your mat and look forward. Pay attention to the low back as having the knee bent makes it easy to arch the back too far. If you feel any discomfort, back off. As you lift the leg, head, and chest, you build strength and flexibility in the muscles along the whole spine.

Inhale lift the leg

Inhale, lift the leg

As you exhale, bring the knee in toward the nose, and nose in toward the knee. As you do this, you continue to work the low back muscle, and as you complete the crunch, you use your abdominal muscles as well.

Exhale, knee in toward to nose, nose toward the knee.

Exhale, knee in toward to nose, nose toward the knee.

Repeat for anywhere from 3-12 breaths, depending on how you’re fitting it into your practice. Make sure you balance it out on the other side!

One-Legged Vinyasa

To add a challenge to your vinyasa, you can try this single leg variation. Feel free to switch to a two-legged vinyasa at any point during this sequence–some of the transitions are harder to do one-legged than others. Begin in a plank with one leg lifted. If you’re incorporating this into a larger flow, one-legged plank can follow naturally from downward facing dog with one leg lifted or from side plank with the top leg lifted.

One-Legged Plank

Begin in plank with one leg lifted.

Keeping the leg lifted, as you exhale lower slowly to chuttarunga. Keep the abdominals contracted, elbows close to the body, and shoulder blades sliding down toward the hips. In chuttarunga, the torso should not sink below the level of the upper arms as this can put the shoulders into a bad position.

Lower to One-Legged Chuttarunga

Exhale, lower to one-legged chuttarunga.

One-Legged Chuttarguna

One-legged chuttarunga.

Contract the abdominals to protect the low back, and as you inhale pull forward into upward facing dog. If you can, keep the leg lifted. Notice that you have to roll over the toe so that the top of the foot is on the floor. In upward facing dog the quads (muscle in the front of the thigh) are contracted so that the hips are lifted. Squeeze the shoulder blades back and together, and slide them down the spine.

One-Legged Upward Facing Dog

Inhale, lift to one-legged upward facing dog.

This next part is the hardest. Rolling back over your toe requires you to use your tibialis anterior muscle in the front of your lower leg, and this muscle is often quite weak. You can lower the lifted leg here if you need to. Here we go: contract the abdominals (you’ll need them!) and as you exhale press back to a downward facing dog with the leg lifted.

One-Legged Downward Facing Dog

Exhale, press to one-legged downward facing dog.

From here you can go all sorts of places: pigeon? High lunge? A warrior? Handstand? That’s up to you!

Variation on Dancing Cat

Here’s another one I came across in San Francisco. I’ve seen dancing cat before (from hands and knees, extend one arm and the opposite leg on an inhale, then bring elbow to knee on an exhale), but this is a fun variation.

Start on hands and knees with one leg extended straight out behind. Holding your leg in this position works the low back muscles, hamstrings, and glutes isometrically (with the muscles staying at one length)

Leg extended

From hands and knees, extend the leg out behind.

As you exhale, bend the elbows, keeping them in close to the body. Bring the chest down toward the floor. The same leg stays lifted throughout. Keeping elbows in close to the body puts the focus on the tricep muscles instead of chest muscles. It also keeps the shoulders rolling forward.

Elbows bent.

Bend the elbows.

As you inhale, straighten the elbows, lifting the chest away from the floor. The same leg is still lifted.

Leg extended

Straighten the elbows again.

Now, as you exhale, bring the knee in toward the nose and nose in toward the knee. This motion works the abdominal muscles, especially if you really round through the spine: think about tucking the chin and tail bone under and drawing the belly button back toward the spine.

Knee to nose, nose to knee.

Bring the knee in toward the nose and the nose in toward the knee.

As you inhale, extend back to the starting position, re-engaging the low back muscles, glutes, and hamstrings. Repeat the flow as many times as you like on this side, and then balance it out on the other side.

Leg extended

Return to the starting position. Repeat the flow.