Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) and Cow Pose (Bitilasana) are usually paired together to provide the spine with a gentle warm-up and relieve any neck or back tension. Usually called Cat-Cow in short, these two poses can be practised anytime, whether as a warm-up for your home yoga practice, after waking up or as a wind-down routine.
Cat-Cow moves your spine from an arched position in Cow to a rounded position in Cat. Each movement is done with either an inhalation or exhalation of the breath to create a simple Vinyasa (synchronising movement with breath)
Pose Level: Beginner 1
Sanskrit Name(s): Marjaryasana or Bitilasana
English Name(s): Cat or Cow
Benefits of Cat-Cow
When you arch or round your spine, the extension or flexion creates circulation and flexibility in the spine. Besides giving the neck and back a good stretch, Cat-Cow also gently opens the chest and activates the abdominal muscles. This all-rounded sequence brings alignment back to the spine and is highly beneficial for supporting a healthy back to prevent and ease back pains.
Cat-Cow is also a good stress reliever as you are coordinating the poses with your breath.
Precautions and Contraindications
Although a basic sequence, make sure to do Cat-Cow within your body’s limits and do not over-strain yourself.
If you have any neck injuries, keep your head in line with your torso instead of tilting it forward or backward. If you are suffering from back problems, check with your doctor before starting these movements.
Pregnant women should not perform Cat Pose or any poses that require strong contractions of the abdominal muscles.
How to Do Cat-Cow Correctly
** If you are unable to watch the video above, view it directly on YouTube here.
- Come to Tabletop position with your hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Place your legs hip-width apart. Bring your spine and head in a neutral position, looking forward
- Bring your awareness to your tailbone – movement in the tailbone will lead the rest of the body for Cat-Cow
- Begin with Cow Pose: Inhale and lift the tailbone up to the sky, feel your belly drop and your back arching naturally. Lift your chest and head up, sending energy forward. Note that your shoulders are retracting as you pull the shoulder blades (scapulas) into the back. Draw your shoulders down and back, away from your ears
- Flow into Cat Pose: Exhale and scoop the tailbone in, feel the belly naturally draw into your spine and your back rounding towards the ceiling. Allow the crown of your head to drop toward the floor, chin to come towards the chest without forcing/straining the neck. This pose looks like a cat stretching its back Note that your shoulder blades (scapulas) are protracting, separating and pulling off the back towards the ribs. This is the opposite motion from Cow Pose.
- Practise Cat-Cow a few more times, inhaling to Cow and exhaling to Cat.
- Come back to a neutral position in tabletop when you are ready to rest.
Modifications and Variations
Cat-Cow should feel comfortable when performed, there should not be any pain. However, if you feel any discomfort, try these variations below
- Place your forearms on the mat or pillow if your wrists hurt in this pose.
- Cushion your knees for those with knee problems.
- If you want to do Cat-Cow without coming to your hands and knees, try it sitting on a chair. Rest your hands against the table or wall, otherwise on your knees. Perform the same spinal movements as in regular Cat-Cow.
Give Cat-Cow a go and let me know how it went for you!
The YogaMad is founded by Candy, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams as a yoga nomad.