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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 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.