I love the Cat Cow Stretch and I teach it in almost every single one of my classes. It’s a simple introduction to the concept of Vinyasa, or “breath-synchronized movement,” between Bitilasana (Cow Pose) as you inhale and Marjaryasana (Cat Pose) as you exhale. It starts the mind linking a breath to every movement while warming up and strengthening the spine.
This practice is most effective when practiced continually for 1 - 3 minutes. The repetitive movement increases the circulation to the discs between the vertebrae and stimulates the organs in the torso. It also increases the flow of vital information along your spinal cord to increase coordination and improve your balance. Cat Cow is great for activating core strength and gently stretching the hips, abdomen and back.
The standard Cat Cow is a great way to start, stretching from the tailbone to the crown of the head. To help detoxify the body and calm the mind, you can incorporate Lion’s Breath. After a minute, if you’re feeling warm, you can try different variations to continue opening the neck, hips and rib cage. I remember being a little shy doing this exercise in a public class but sometimes it helps to just close your eyes.
1. Start on all fours in “tabletop” position. The wrists are under the shoulders and the knees are hip distance apart. Elongate the spinal cord by pulling the navel in. Keep the back of your neck long by gazing at the floor, crown of the head towards the front of the room.
2. As you inhale, allow your belly to sink towards the floor as open your collarbones and tilt your tailbone to the ceiling.
3. As you exhale, press into the floor with your hands and round your back. Bring your chin towards your chest and your navel to the spine. Tuck the tailbone under you.
4. Continue moving on the breath. Inhale to Cow pose, opening the front of the body and shoulders. Exhale to Cat pose, rounding behind the heart and connecting to your core center.
Variation A: Hips & Shoulders
1. As you inhale, create a circular motion leaning forward over the shoulders. As you exhale, shift back in the hips.
2. Continue arching and rounding your back if possible.
3. Try to incorporate a circling motion with the neck.
4. Switch directions.
Variation B: Rib Cage Roll
1. Start in neutral position.
2. Isolate the rib cage and roll it clockwise while keeping the hips and shoulders stable. Shift the ribs to the left, down, to the right and back up.
3. Continue to move the torso like a raffle rage in circular motions.
4. After a few cycles, switch directions.
Take Child’s Pose, open the knees wide with your toes behind you and sit your hips on your heels. Rest and breathe.