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Cat-Cow Stretch

Updated on September 18, 2012

Benefits of Cat-Cow Stretch

  • strengthens muscles in shoulders, arms and hands
  • strengthens abdominal muscles
  • increases breathing capacity
  • tones and massages the organs
  • helps bowel regularity
  • strengthens the bones in the arms
  • calms the mind and develops focus
  • balancing cat variation develops balance
  • very beneficial for all levels of practice, including children, seniors and pregnant women

Cat-Cow Stretch

Cat-Cow is a good warm-up yoga stretch with many benefits for all levels of fitness. It tones and massages the spine, keeping it flexible as we age, develops the breath capacity as it stretches the breathing muscles, or intercostal muscles, between the ribs, and it tones and massages all the organs as it first stretches, then squeezes the abdomen.

Start on all fours as shown above in the video. Feet and knees are pelvis width apart, palms under the shoulders, fingers spread, the third finger pointing forward. Exhale and empty the lungs, and as you inhale, lift the tailbone, press the belly down, press the mid-back down, lift your head up, and look up. As you exhale, tuck the tailbone under, press the belly up, press the mid-back up, and tuck the chin to the chest. Continue rocking back and forth in this way, co-ordinating the physical movement with the breath. Exhale completely, and hold the full extreme of the stretch for a few seconds with empty lungs, really stretching the spine into the space left by emptying lungs.

Keep lifting your chest out of your shoulders, relax your jaw and unclench your teeth, relax your eyes and forehead, and focus your mind on the movement of your breath.

Repeat five or more cycles, then rest in child pose if that is enough, bringing your hips toward your heels and relaxing your forehead on the floor, or on your two fists if that eases tension in your neck.


Dancing Cat Variation

A more advanced variation, also shown in the video above, deepens the core work, strengthens the arms and shoulders, and develops balance. As you inhale, reach your right hand forward and your left foot back, bring arm and leg one line with the spine. Keep pressing your supporting hand, lower leg and foot firmly into the ground to help hold the balance. As you exhale, bring the right elbow toward the right hip, and squeeze the left knee to the forehead and the forehead to the knee, curling the spine forward. Repeat five to ten cycles, then repeat on the other side. Rest in Child Pose between sides if you wish, or go straight to the second side.

Include this Cat-Cow stretch regularly in your yoga or fitness routine and notice how the rhythmic breathing calms the mind and grounds you, while the physical work of the posture strengthens the arms and the core.

Dancing Cat Variations

Extended Balancing Cat.  Hold this position and breathe for five long, full breaths, or move back and forth with the breath between the Extended Balancing Cat and the Curled Dancing Cat, shown below.
Extended Balancing Cat. Hold this position and breathe for five long, full breaths, or move back and forth with the breath between the Extended Balancing Cat and the Curled Dancing Cat, shown below. | Source
Curled Balancing Cat.  Hold it and breath, deepening the stretch through the back, or move on the next breath to Extended Balancing Cat shown above.
Curled Balancing Cat. Hold it and breath, deepening the stretch through the back, or move on the next breath to Extended Balancing Cat shown above. | Source
For even more challenge, bring your opposite hand and foot together, press your hand into your foot and your foot into your hand as you actively lift the raised thigh.  This deepens the work in the back, core, and thigh.
For even more challenge, bring your opposite hand and foot together, press your hand into your foot and your foot into your hand as you actively lift the raised thigh. This deepens the work in the back, core, and thigh. | Source

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    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 4 years ago from UK

      Excellent! I've pinned this as usual, but I am beginning to realise that I need a "Janis' Yoga" board! Thanks, love your yoga hubs, so well explained :)

    • starstream profile image

      Dreamer at heart 4 years ago from Northern California

      Yoga when done slowly and correctly is a wonderful way to increase strength and focus. Thanks for sharing this video too.

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 4 years ago from Ohio

      Great information and very well explained. I love your video. Thanks for sharing.

      :)

    • Janis Goad profile image
      Author

      Janis Goad 5 years ago

      Thank you for the visit and the comment, Robin. Keeping the spine flexible is the single most important way people can stay youthful as they age.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Wonderful video showing exactly how it's done. This is one of my favorite yoga stretches. :)

    • Janis Goad profile image
      Author

      Janis Goad 5 years ago

      I am so glad the video has been helping you, Cat on a Soapbox! It is simple, but really effective.

      Thank you for commenting.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      One of the best stretches ever for back stiffness! Thank you for showing the proper form and its variations. Voted up! :)