Exercise & Fitness
"The Cat and Cow poses are simple and provide great benefits, including opening the lungs for better breathing." – Andrew Weil, M.D.
Description & History
The Cat and Cow poses are considered simple yoga poses. The Sanskrit name of the Cat Pose, Marjaiasana, comes from marjay meaning cat and asana meaning posture. The name of the Cow Pose, Bitilasana, comes from bitil meaning cow and asana meaning posture.
Both the Cat and Cow poses stretch the lower spine, hips, back and core muscles. They also open the chest and lungs allowing for easier breathing. Practicing the Cat and Cow poses may improve posture and promote a healthy spine.
How to Perform Cat-Cow Pose
- Start by kneeling on your hands and knees, and gaze at a spot on the floor about three feet in front of you. Make sure your knees are in line with your hips and wrists, and that your elbows and shoulders are perpendicular to the floor.
- Inhale and slowly round your spine toward the ceiling. Drop your head toward the floor but do not force your chin into your chest. Make sure you keep your arms and legs perpendicular to the floor. This is the Cat Pose.
- Exhale and slowly bring your spine back to starting position returning your gaze to the original spot.
- Inhale and lift both your chest and tailbone to the ceiling while curving your back down towards the floor. Raise your head up but do not force it into your back. Pick a spot in the distance and fix your gaze. Keep your knees down and make sure your hands and legs are still perpendicular to the floor. This is Cow Pose.
- Exhale and slowly bring your spine back to starting position returning your gaze to the original spot at which you started. Repeat this alternating Cat and Cow pose with each inhale and exhale. Do this10 to 20 times.
Potential Health Benefits
- Stretches muscles of the hips, back, and abdomen
- Stimulates organs including gastrointestinal tract
- Aids breathing by stretching chest and lungs
- Relieves lower back pain and sciatica
A study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies compared the effects of yoga sessions, massage therapy, and support groups on prenatal depression. Researchers separated 84 prenatally depressed women into groups of yoga, massage therapy, or standard prenatal care support groups. Both the Cat and Cow poses were included as poses in the yoga sessions among other poses. After the 12 weeks of twice-weekly yoga or massage sessions, both groups had a greater decrease in depression, anxiety and back pain compared to the support group.
Modifications & Variations
Both the Cat and Cow poses are simple kneeling poses that do not have any variations. If you would like to deepen the poses, you can exhale and try to round or curve your back even more during the poses. This can help increase the stretching benefits. Placing a hand slightly above and between the shoulder blades can help activate the stretch.
If you have wrist pain and are unable to place weight on your wrists during the pose, you can drop down to your elbows and rest your forearms on the floor as you do the poses. If you have neck pain, keep your head in a neutral alignment with your spine during the poses and do not raise or lower your head.
You can roll up a yoga mat or towel and place it under your knees for support. This can alleviate pressure and pain in your knees while on the ground.
If you experience wrist pain during the Cat and Cow poses, modify the pose by following the instructions above or avoid performing the poses. Since you are also resting on your knees during the poses, if you have knee pain or injury, avoid performing the poses for an extended period of time. Also, if you experience back pain or have had a recent back injury, it is important to be cautious when performing these poses or avoid them altogether.
- Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
- Child’s Pose (Balasana)
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
- Standing Forward Bend Pose (Uttanasana)
Reviewed by: James Nicolai, M.D., on August 1st, 2013.
Field, Tiffany, Miguel Diego, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Lissette Medina, Jeannette Delgado, and Andrea Hernandez. "Yoga and massage therapy reduce prenatal depression and prematurity." Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 16, no. 2 (2012): 204-209.