Meow? Moo? Ah, cat and cow, two of the most common poses in a typical yoga warm-up. Whether you’re a teen yogi or adult, these poses sound kind of funny. Who would’ve put cats and cows together? Not exactly a match made in heaven.
But in yoga, the two animals go together like peanut butter and jelly. First of all, both postures take their names from their similarities to the animals they’re named after: the cat refers to the arched-back position of a scared kitty, while the cow posture refers to a dip in the spine like a grazing cow.
Also, both cat and cow and meant to stretch and warm up the spine, which is really important in yoga. There is some twisting and bending of the spine in most yoga classes, and doing this without a proper warm-up can cause serious injury. Stretching the spine with the cat and cow poses prepares the back so it is more than happy to slide into bendy postures and twists.
The spine is considered the center of energy, so by treating the back with care we can improve our health and well being. And warming it up with some cat and cow stretches is a great way to get started by activating certain muscles, releasing tension, stretching the body, and helping to release toxins in our organs.
Tips for Cat and Cow Pose:
- Come into a tabletop position with the palms down and stacked under the shoulders, knees on the mat or floor undernearth the hips.
- Next, on an exhale, press the palms into the mat and round the spine by pressing the upper back towards the ceiling so you feel the space across the shoulder blades growing. Also make sure to curl the tailbone under by engaging your stomach muscles and round the shoulders so you are looking down towards Once you have completely exhaled all the air in your lung, congratulations! You’re in cat.
- Now, take a deep breath in as you draw the belly towards the mat, creating a dip in the spine. Let the shoulder blades press together and pull the chest forward while letting your gaze float up towards the ceiling. Push the tailbone out as if you’re going to make an imprint on the back wall with your butt. Silly, for sure, but that’s the way it’s done.You’re now in cow pose.
Flow from cat to cow several times, making sure that you come into cat on an exhale and into cow on an inhale. Linking breath to movement is an important component of yoga and will help you to get the most benefits from the postures.
Cat and Cow Bliss
When I first started doing yoga, I would always feel self-conscious doing cat and cows in class. I knew everyone else around me was doing it too, but I just felt silly when wagging and rolling my spine, tucking my butt under and pushing it out. It seemed exaggerated and awkward. But somewhere along the line, I forgot about the awkwardness and started to realize that it actually felt good.
Really, really good. Especially after having been cramped in a desk chair for several hours, or all day. The spine gets so tense on a daily basis from just simple movements – or lack thereof. By moving the spine gently through cat and cow, we can release tension and get some circulation flowing, which makes the body happy.
We each get only one body to carry us through life; the sooner we can learn to treat it with care and respect, the better off we’ll be for the long run. Realizing this, I came to be an eager practitioner of cats and cows, and you can too.
This article was last reviewed May 2018 by Dr. Tara Cousineau, Ph.D.