How to Stretch the Shoulders, Chest and Back with Cat and Cow Pose

I recently received an email from someone, who is working with young children, and she wanted suggestions for yoga poses that would help stretch the chest and shoulder area. The first thing that came to mind Cat and Cow flow.

Cat and cow are two poses that are often paired to create a gentle flow. I think it is an ideal sequence for kids as it is simple, safe and fun. Of course, it is also very beneficial for adults. It is a great pose if you spend lots of time at your desk as it releases tension in the neck and upper back. I have always felt an affinity to this gracious vinyasa!

Cat-Cow is often used as a warmup at the beginning of class. It is a wonderful way to stretch and lubricate the spine. It helps to bring you into the rhythm of your breath. It is also very calming which makes it a nice addition to the end of a practice or before heading to bed at night. Cat-Cow sequence is very accessible, available to almost everyone.

Benefits

  • Stretches the spine
  • Releases the muscles of the neck and upper back
  • Increases mobility in the pelvis
  • Creates space in the shoulder joints, hips and lower back
  • Can be practiced by anyone regardless of age, flexibility or strength
  • Calming; reduces stress and anxiety
  • Massages the digestive system
  • Thought to clean up emotional debris that we accumulate in our gut region (think of that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when under stress)

Directions

The two poses that make up this flow are Cat (Marjariasana) and Cow (Bitilasana). You usually begin in a Table pose with the spine neutral.

Table Pose

Come to your hands and knees to move into Table pose. Hands are beneath the shoulders with fingers spread wide. Knees are below the hips. Take a few easy breaths here.

Tip: Throughout the sequence, try not to let your weight drop into you wrists. Keep the hands active by pressing into the tips of your fingers to activate the muscles of the hands and shoulders.

Cow Pose (Bitilasana)

Woman Practices Yoga

On an inhalation, bring your heart forward, look up and allow your belly to sink, creating a gentle arch.

Try to feel the movement in your pelvis as you lift your sitting bones back.

Stay connected to your core (engage the muscles) so that you do not over arch or “fall” into the pose which can be uncomfortable for your lower back.

Keep your shoulders moving away from your ears (no hunching!) to open your chest and lengthen the spine.

Hold the breath momentarily in cow.

Cat Pose (Marjariasana)

Cat Pose - Marjariasana

Slowly begin to exhale, rounding your back in the opposite direction.

Look towards your belly and tuck your pelvis. Bring the belly button towards the spine expelling all of the air from your lungs.

Allow your head to hang freely and feel your ribs lift.

Hold the breath momentarily in cat.

Inhale as you lower the belly returning to Cow. Repeat the sequence about 5 times.

Tips:

  • Slow down your movements to coordinate your breath with the flow.
  • Don’t stress or strain in either direction.
  • Maintain the alignment of the hands-shoulders and knees-hips in order to create a stable base.

Below is a video demonstration of this sequence in action! (Video courtesy of Yoga Journal)

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