Cat/Cow Pose (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana) is a wonderful way to warm up the spine at any point on or off your mat.
Since it's a breath synchronized movement, the asana flow from Cow Tilt to Cat Stretch has many powerful health benefits for the mind, body, and soul.
In a tabletop position, with shoulders over the wrists and hips over the knees, start to place weight evenly through the hands and legs. Fingers send energy forward, eyes of the elbows facing toward each other, and feet resting on the floor shoelace side down with weight distributed through the shins.
Gently lift the wrists and knees off the mat, feeling like you could slide a piece of paper underneath them, this helps engage the core, place weight through the shins, and alleviate negative effects on the wrists. Lightly rest the wrists and knees back on the mat.
Starting with a neutral spine for Cow Tilt, start to inhale expanding the belly toward the floor, lift the gaze (drishti) toward the third eye, send energy forward through the sternum and the tailbone as they tilt toward the sky.
For Cat Stretch, start to exhale the belly button toward the spine and continue that lift toward the heart, scoop the tailbone, allow the chin to rest on the chest, and drishti toward the nose. Complete as many rounds as you would like, potentially adding intentional movement and activation of the spine by noticing if your head, chest, belly, and/or tailbone tend to initiate your flow.
Yogi tip: try initiating movement from the tailbone like an energy current flowing through the spine, neck, and head to create a fluid and undulating movement that helps awaken the chakras.
Depending on your intentions for the practice, it might feel nice to play around with breath retention in the full inhalation of Cow Tilt and full exhalation of Cat Stretch, holding for about 3-5 seconds before continuing to flow through the movement. Focus on the breath being even through the flow, aiming for 5-10 seconds for inhalation and exhalation.
If you experience anxiety, it is best to avoid breath retention due to the potential spike in the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight response center) and focus on the exhale to promote the parasympathetic nervous system (rest/digest response center).
It is best to avoid bending the arms at the elbows so the movement is localized to the spine. While this movement can be practiced while pregnant and is linked to gently massaging the female reproductive system, it is best to avoid forceful contraction of the abdomen.
Additionally, if you have a neck injury or are being extra mindful of your neck, it is best to keep the head in alignment with the torso.
While Cow Tilt and Cat Stretch may look “easy,” it is a powerful pose for the mind. The breath synchronized movement increases coordination, fosters intentional focus, and invigorates prana (the vital life force in the body). Furthermore, it is associated with increased emotional balance and stability of the mind.
Lastly, lengthening the spine improves circulation to the discs between the vertebrae, which in turn relieves stress from the back and calms the mind.
There are many physical benefits of Cat/Cow Pose, including toning the gastrointestinal tract and female reproductive system. The asana flow helps relieve stress from menstrual cramps, lower back pain, and sciatica. Cat/Cow Pose increases flexibility of the neck, shoulders, and spine. The movement also stretches the muscles of the hips, back, abdomen, chest, and lungs.
Cat Stretch held at its peak releases tension of the upper back and neck. Activation of the tailbone emphasizes the root movement of the spine, which increases flexibility for forward and backbends.
Additionally, the spine consists of both primary (thoracic and sacral) and secondary (cervical and lumbar) curves. Inhaling in spinal flexion (Cow Tilt) increases the primary spinal curves and decreases the secondary spinal curves. Exhaling in spinal extension (Cat Stretch) increases the secondary curves and decreases the primary curves.
Cat/Cow Pose strengthens and improves flexibility of the spine through utilization of the reciprocal relationship between the primary and secondary curves.
Cat/Cow Pose activates the Swadhisthana Chakra, the second chakra. When not fostered, a blocked second chakra is associated with deep emotional turmoil and depression. When nurtured, the movement enhances creativity and the ability to focus and learn.
The flow is attributed to connection with the inner source of inspiration and the ability to experience joy.
What are some of the benefits you've found from practicing Cat/Cow Pose? Share with us in the comments below!