Cat & Cow Pose | Sanskrit Name: Marjaryasana & Bitilasana
1. From Child’s Pose, inhale to come up to a neutral Table Top position on your hands and knees. Lengthen your spine from tailbone to crown of head, ensure that your wrists are directly below your shoulders and that your knees are directly below your hips. Fingertips point forwards and feet are flat on the mat with your toes untucked. (See photo above)
2. INHALE, keep your arms straight, drop the belly to the floor bringing a gentle arch to the spine. Lengthen the crown of your head upwards, doing the same with the tailbone. Ensure that your shoulders are drawn back and pulled far away from the ears. This is Cow Pose (Bitilasana).
3. EXHALE, and flow from an arched back position to a rounded back position, scooping the belly inwards. Press your knees and palms firmly into the mat, look towards your belly and press the space in between the shoulder blades upward towards the ceiling. Keep your arms straight, drop the tailbone to face downwards. This is Cat Pose (Marjaryasana).
4. Repeat this transition from Cow to Cat pose several times to warm up the spine, perhaps deepening the extension (arching backward) and flexion (bending forward) as you get used to the movements. Make sure to perform Cow Pose on an inhale and Cat Pose on an exhale. This allows you to flow naturally, making room for your expanding ribcage and lungs on an inhale and assisting your exhales by pressing the air out.
The Benefits of Cat-Cow Pose:
Cat Pose provides the neck, upper and lower spine with a gentle stretch. It also provides the internal organs with a stimulating massage.
Cow Pose stretches the front of the body; the belly, chest and neck. It also helps to set the shoulders back and improve posture, strengthening between the shoulder blades. The arching movement allows for increasing mobility of the spine.
This sequence of movement provides the spine with a safe and gentle warm up. It is very important to adequately warm the spine before practicing more intense asanas (postures).
Another benefit of Cat-Cow is that it teaches the practitioner how to incorporate the pairing of physical movements (asana) with breathing (pranayama). This is an important skill to learn, as you will benefit more from physical postures if you learn how to breath effectively through them.
How to Modify:
If you have neck pain, move through the Cat-Cow postures and maintain a neutral position of the head. Refrain from looking upwards on Cat Pose and down towards the belly on Cow Pose. (See photos below)
If you notice strain in the wrists, make wrist exercises your priority before practicing any poses that require support from the arms. Practice wrist strengthening and stretching regularly so that you build strength and mobility within these joints. Stay tuned for wrist stretches next week!
Sometimes kneeling can be painful for inflamed knee joints, so to alleviate some pressure, soften the surface that you are using. You can do this by doubling up your mat, folding a blanket under your knees, or using a thicker pilates style mat for your yoga practice. (See photos above)
To incorporate more spinal movement into your warm up, bring lateral (side to side) flexion to the spine. From a neutral table top position, exhale and look to your right hip and heel, lengthening your left side, creating space between the ribs on your left side. Inhale and return to neutral and then repeat the exercise, this time looking towards the left hip and heel, creating length on your right side this time. (See photos below)
Try Cat-Cow Pose the next time you practice! This is a great series of movements to incorporate into the start of your yoga practice as it safely and effectively warms up the spine in a gentle manner. It can provide relief to back, neck and shoulder strain, and teaches you how to combine breathing with movement in yoga. Remind yourself that as with any posture, it takes a few tries to feel comfortable doing it. Use a thick mat and any adjustments that feel right. Listen to your body and enjoy the practice!
How does Cat-Cow Pose make you feel? Do you perform this pose in your daily practice? Are there other variations that you use to make this posture feel more accessible to you? I would love to hear from you. Comment below or email me!