Cat / cow is one of my favourite yoga asanas. Not just because cats and cows are amongst my favourite animals.
My first experience of yoga was using a really old book someone gave me after minor surgery in my mid-twenties. Having been told that I’d have to keep having similar surgery, every few years, motivated me to look into alternatives and yoga offered pain relief.
Initially, I had no idea about the benefits of co-ordinating each movement with the breath (when I started attending classes, I sometimes burst out laughing looking at what my alleged fellow humans were making their bodies do. It was all I could do to aim for limbs in right place let alone breath co-ordination).
Yet, while I continue to love the gentle spinal and abdominal stretch cat / cow offers, it’s especially useful for becoming more mindful of the breath. Some days, it’s easier than others to co-ordinate the inhale as you look up, the exhale coming down. It’s completely natural for minds to wander and we can simply choose (if we want to) to bring our focus back to inhaling up and exhaling down.
Because the movement’s so simple, it’s got enough going on to aid mindfulness without being so complex that the idea of adding breath co-ordination makes you want to give up on yoga altogether.
So a great pose for beginners and a great reminder and lovely grounding pose for people at any stage of their practice.
If you want to try it, come to a tabletop position with your knees hip distance apart, hands either directly under your shoulders or slightly in front – experiment with what feels best for your body.
Inhale as you lift the chin and head, looking up, then exhale as you round the spine and draw the chin towards the chest.
Keep the movement in time with the breath so the breath guides every move. For added calm, aim to breathe as if from the belly and have a slightly longer exhalation. Any time your mind wanders, simply bring it back if you want to.
If kneeling is uncomfortable, ignoring your body’s signals is not going to help you deepen your mindbody connection. Instead, you may want to try a variation of the pose from standing or sitting. There are always options for modifying poses to be friendlier to your body.
From standing, start with the feet hip distance apart. Bend the knees a little and rest the elbows on the thighs. You can make the stretch as deep as you want maybe bending the knees more as you inhale and look up then straightening the legs as you exhale bringing the head back down. Work with movement that feels good for you.
From sitting in any comfortable position, inhale, lifting the head and neck back and exhale, rounding the spine and drawing the chin to the chest.
Do you enjoy cat / cow?
Which variation was your favourite today?
What other poses do you find really help you either with physical symptoms or with co-ordinating the movement and the breath?
Feel free to comment below.
IF YOU’RE NEW TO YOGA AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THESE POSES, GO TO A YOGA THERAPIST OR INSTRUCTOR. IF YOU’RE NEW TO EXERCISE, CONSULT YOUR GP BEFOREHAND. ALWAYS HONOUR YOUR BODY’S OWN WISDOM