Why You Should Do Cat-Cow Pose Even When You Aren’t in a Yoga Class

Why You Should Do Cat-Cow Pose Even When You Aren’t in a Yoga Class

Shot of a young woman doing Cat-Cow pose practicing yoga at home

Back feeling achy or tight? Thankfully, it’s simple to stretch your thoracic spine (the middle section, from the base of your neck to the bottom of your ribs): Just do a round of Cat Pose to Cow Pose, more commonly referred to as Cat-Cow Pose.

As a yoga instructor, Cat-Cow is one of my favorite ways to begin class, since the combination of these two poses helps warm up your spine and relieves back and neck tension. But you don’t need a yoga class as an excuse to do Cat-Cow. Get on the floor whenever you need to stretch your neck, spine, hips, and abs — it feels great to do this pose in the morning, after an ab workout, or before bed to help your body and mind settle down. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Benefits of Cat-Cow Pose

First and foremost, “Cat-Cow Pose strengthens and improves flexibility of the neck, shoulders, and spine,” says Cristina Chan, a certified trainer at F45 Training. “The movement also stretches the muscles of the hips, back, abdomen, chest, and lungs.”

That’s right: Cat-Cow Pose not only increases flexibility and relieves tightness in the spine, but it can also be an effective ab, neck, and chest stretch. Since you’re tucking and rounding your pelvis, Cat-Cow is also considered a great hip stretch, too. If you’re bloated, Cat-Cow can even help relieve gas by massaging your abdominal organs, improving digestion.

When paired with your breath, Cat-Cow can also become a sort of moving meditation. “The benefits of this with a synchronized breath movement will also help you relax and ease some of the day’s stress,” Chan adds. “Combining breath and body movement is key to getting the most out of the Cat-Cow exercise.” (More on how to breathe during Cat-Cow, below.)

demonstration of Cat-Cow pose in yoga

How to Do Cat-Cow Pose

As Chan points out above, incorporating your breath can help you make the most of this stretch — even if you’re not doing it in the middle of yoga class. “As you inhale and move into Cow Pose, lift your sit bones upward, press your chest forward, and allow your belly to sink,” Chan says. “As you exhale, come into cat pose while rounding your spine outward, tucking in your tailbone, and drawing your pubic bone forward.”

Here’s exactly how to do Cat-Cow pose:

  • Start with your hands and knees on the floor. Make sure your knees are under your hips and your wrists are under your shoulders. Begin in a neutral spine position, with your back flat and your abs engaged. Take a big deep inhale.
  • On the exhale, round your spine up toward the ceiling, and imagine you’re pulling your belly button up towards your spine. Tuck your chin toward your chest, and let your neck release. This is Cat Pose.
  • On the inhale, lift your head and tailbone up towards the sky, without putting any unnecessary pressure on your neck. Arch your back, and let your belly relax and go loose. This is Cow Pose.
  • Continue flowing back and forth from Cat Pose to Cow Pose, connecting your breath to each movement — always inhaling for Cow Pose and exhaling for Cat Pose.

Cat-Cow Modifications

  • If you’re unable to explore the full range of motion in Cat-Cow, just round and arch your spine as much as you can.
  • If this pose bothers your knees, place a rolled-up towel or yoga blanket underneath your knees.
  • If having your palms flat on the floor bothers your wrists, try making relaxed fists, and rest your knuckles on the floor instead.
  • If being on the floor puts too much pressure on the body, you can do this pose while seated on the floor or in a chair. Just rest your hands on your knees and tuck your chin to your chest to do Cat Pose, then lift your head and chest to do Cow Pose.

Cat-Cow Variations

If you want to get more out of your basic Cat-Cow, instead of just arching and rounding the spine in one linear movement, bring some side-to-side and circular movements to your hips to improve your range of motion. Go slowly, and find what feels good to you — just don’t forget to breathe.

—Additional reporting by Lauren Mazzo