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Asana Of The Month: Cat-cow

"Cats and cows don't really go well together. The popular yoga exercise "cat-cow", on the other hand, is the perfect combination - especially for your back."

Marjariasana, known in German yoga studios as the cat-cow, is a modest, inconspicuous yoga exercise. In a gymnastics class at the adult education center, she would not attract uncomfortably. However, this first impression is deceptive. There is a lot of power in the dynamic change between hollow and rounded back! Marjariasana relieves tension and blockages in the shoulder area and along the spine as gently as effectively and can be a real lifesaver for all those with back problems and postural problems. The best: cat-cow can do anyone who can stand! 

Cow Pose Bitilasana

Insertion for Sanskrit fans: There is a little dispute about terms between cat and cow. Marjariasana actually only means cat pose (Marjara = hangover / cat, Asana = pose). That is why the exercise is sometimes called Bidalasana-Bitilasana (Bidal = also: cat, Bitila = cow). Or also Chakravakasana, which is derived from Chakravaka, which - and this is where it gets confusing - means red-headed goose ...

how to practice cat-cow properly

1. Get into the quadruped position: the shoulders are directly above the hands, the hip bones directly above the knees. The spine is a straight line from crown to rump, your entire upper body is activated - especially your core, i.e. the center of your body muscles, consisting of abdominal, back, hip and pelvic muscles. 

2. Now comes the cow part of the exercise: lift your head a little with a relaxed inhalation, look straight ahead and keep your neck long while you let your back sink into a hollow back in a controlled manner. Please do not just let go of your lower back, or even let it fall quickly - this could worsen existing back problems! Instead, use your core muscles to carefully steer your upper body into a gently hollow back. Just imagine that you are a cow and you are standing relaxed in a meadow ...

3. For the cat part of the exercise, you now let the movement go in the opposite direction with an exhalation: You round your back and move your head down so far (without force and pressure!) That you are now looking more towards your belly button . Above all, you let the upper back become very round, and very wide, so that the area between the shoulder blades is wonderfully expanded. Your back now looks like that of an angry cat!

4. Repeat 2nd and 3rd in the rhythm of your breathing until you have the feeling that your entire upper body is much more relaxed and mobilized and warmed up from top to bottom - and you feel liberated and somehow light inside.

Check out our other articles: The Fourth Chakra: Anahata - The Heart ChakraYoga To Wake Up: It's Never Too Early To Practice Yoga & more on TamarSamirYoga

Typical problems with cat-cow and how to solve them

About Cat Cow

  • If it feels good, you can keep your eyes closed while you practice. This can help you find a natural rhythm of practice.
  • If you have sensitive knees, put a sturdy blanket under them for cushioning.
  • Don't look up at the cow part. In order to achieve the desired effect, it is sufficient if you look forward with a long neck. So you don't run the risk of tensing your neck instead of loosening it. Cows don't look up either (at least I haven't seen any ...)!

Effects of cat-cow

Physical effects

  • Cat-Cow relieves tension in the entire upper body very effectively - from the neck and shoulder area to the lower back and even to the hip and pelvic area. This makes cat-cow the perfect spine warm-up!
  • The entire back area is also strengthened.
  • The core muscles are also activated and strengthened.
  • This reduces or prevents back problems.
  • In addition, the wrists and arms are gently exercised.
  • The chest area opens, you breathe more freely.

Energetic effect

Some also claim that the cat-cow activates all chakras along the spine - from the root to the frontal chakra - and can thus release a large number of energetic blockages in one fell swoop.

Psychological effect

By releasing physical tension and energetic blockages as well as opening the heart area, you will feel emotionally liberated and revitalized after cat-cow. Splendid!

Variations of Marjariasana

Cat-cow standing or sitting

If you have acute or chronic knee problems, the four-foot stance is probably torture for you. Fortunately, you can also do Marjariasana while standing and even sitting!

How to walk cat-cow while standing or sitting:

1. Stand with your feet well hip-width apart and bend your knees slightly or, alternatively, sit on a sturdy chair without a backrest with your feet hip-width apart on the floor.

2. Now there are two other variations, namely with regard to the arm position: If you have back problems and little strength in your upper body, then support your hands on your thighs. If you want to strengthen your arms, stretch your arms angled upwards to the sides like a cactus.

3. From the selected position, you now practice cat-cow as described above: First, open your chest area by looking up while inhaling with a long neck and doing a controlled hollow back, then gently looking down while exhaling and to form a hunchback. If you rest your arms on your thighs, they'll stay rooted there. If you have stretched them up, open your arms as you inhale, as if you were doing gentle back bends - the shoulders remain down, the shoulder blades approach each other as much as possible - and, as you exhale, bring them forward and closer together . 

4. Practice in your breathing rhythm until you feel the wonderful effect of the exercise.

Cat-cow-snake

Yoga pose cat cow illustration

Instead of practicing Marjariasana as an alternation between a hollow back and a hunched back, with Cat-Cow-Snake you allow yourself a lot more freedom in movement: You simply meander your spine in all directions in which it wants to move! Let your pelvis rotate so that every vertebra from head to rump starts to move, snake your spine horizontally from bottom to top, combine snaking with hollow and rounded back, as you enjoy it. Even if you feel a bit hippie-like: Free yourself from restrictive ideas, feel into your body and allow it to do all the movements that everyday life withheld!

Utthita Marjariasana, the stretched cat-cow pose

With Utthita Marjariasana the exercise gains a new dimension and becomes a balance posture. It is also perfect for beginners: suitable for indoor use and is really good for the back, but strengthens the arm, hip and core muscles even more. In addition, the stretched cat-cow asks you to make yourself really long - the energy flows from head to toe in this position!

How to do Utthita Marjariasana:

1. Get into the four-legged position.

2. Now, with one inhalation, first stretch your right arm forwards and then with the next inhalation, stretch your left leg backwards. Your entire body is activated, from the hand to the arm, the core muscles to the legs and feet. Imagine that you want to reach a somewhat distant goal with your hand in front of you and with your foot behind you as well. In other words: your arm pulls forward, your leg backwards diagonally in the opposite direction. Hold a few breaths.

3. Now switch sides and lift your left arm and right leg. Hold a few breaths.

Tips:

  • If that's too shaky, just practice with an extended arm first, then with an extended leg, and let your body experiment with balance. It also has a stabilizing effect if you imagine that your arm and leg are pulling you in opposite directions. Just try it out!
  • If you have neck problems, don't look forward, look down. 
  • You can also do the exercise dynamically and lift arm and leg with your inhalation, stop with the exhalation and lift the other arm and leg with the next inhalation and so on ... This only makes sense if you are doing the Posture don't have major problems with balance.

Yoga Asana

Cat-cow contraindications

  • Clear case: If you have knee problems, you should not do Marjariasana in a four-foot position. Just practice the variation while standing!
  • If you have acute problems - especially your lower - back, first clarify these with a doctor before you practice Marjariasana. Cat-Cow is the perfect exercise for the back, but if you are about to have a herniated disc and practice carelessly, you can possibly worsen your condition - and we definitely don't want that!

 

Tamar Samir

Tamar Samir

Hello guys! I am Tamar Samir, a yoga practitioner by profession and a writer by heart. I have been a yoga instructor for the last 10 years. Now, I am investing some time in writing as well. Let’s catch up on some relaxing yet informative yoga topics!