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June 5, 2000

Yoga Cat Cow Pose
Jnani Chapman, RN, BSN, CMT

The Cat/Cow Pose

A wonderful yoga stretch that has been used widely in physical therapy is commonly known as Cat/Cow. Cat/Cow is an awareness practice and a movement sequence done on hands and knees. The purpose is to experience the range of motion currently available as we move the pelvis in opposite directions; first, by tucking the tailbone in to round the back at one end of the movement spectrum and then by extending the tail bone to flatten the back at the other end of the spectrum. Remember to be gentle and easy. Do not push or force the body.

Please be on a padded mat or rug to avoid hurting the knees. Relax into the movements, moving and breathing evenly and comfortably. Place each knee directly below the center of the hip joint so that the thigh is perpendicular to the floor and place wrists or fists directly below the center of the shoulder joint so that the arm is perpendicular to the floor without any bend at the elbows. Keep your neck in line with the spine so that you don't allow the head to drop.

Slowly and Evenly
- exhale as you round the back by tucking the tailbone in/under. (The image apparently of a Halloween cat hissing on a fence). You are simultaneously pointing the waist up toward the ceiling by drawing the belly in and up and curling the chin in toward the chest to help contract lungs as you exhale . When you are ready to

- inhale: flatten the back by elongating and extending the tailbone as you lift the neck in line with the spine, opening and expanding the chest for the length of the inhale. This is the cow in its field, who is is extending the tail bone in one direction and elongating the neck so the crown of the head extends in the other. Then, continue to breathe in and out coordinating each breath to a direction of movement.

- As the back curls and rounds from head to tail for the cat you are contracting the lungs and letting the air flow out evenly and steadily. Then as the spine elongates from the crown of the head through to tip of the tail for the cow you are inhaling long and deep letting the breath open and expand the chest. Exhale as you curl the tailbone in and under pressing it forward toward the chin as it curls in toward the chest; then, inhale as you extend the tailbone back to elongate the spine as the chin extends to let the crown of the head elongate.

- Cat/Cow is commonly used for back problems to help the spine and pelvis restore range of motion and to help back muscles gain strength. Try this practice first for three-five minutes and see how you feel. If it feels good and seems to sustain then continue the practice regularly once or twice a day.

Yoga Research Note
The list is long and includes asthma, arthritis, anxiety and depression, headache, backache, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, pain management and insomnia, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Much of this research was done in India and Europe. Yoga studies in the United States are limited. Most studies include yoga as one of several modalities of comprehensive lifestyle management programs.

Jnani Chapman, RN, BSN, CMT
Osher Center for Integrative Medicine San Francisco, CA 94115

PO Box 316
Bolinas, CA 94924

See also Yoga In Illness and Health by Jnani Chapman

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