Cat-Cow Pose is a super simple yoga pose that can help you counter backache and lethargy with fluid moo-vements (or meow-vements, if you’re a cat person).

The pose is a simple intro to yoga. Cat-Cow can ease that ache and open up a whole new world of flexibility and #Chill for you. Let’s learn more.

Think of this easy yoga pose as a flow between three positions:

  • the starting position
  • Cat Pose
  • Cow Pose

We’ll break down all three and show you how to transition from one position to another as smoothly as possible.

Adopting a neutral start position

  1. Begin on your hands and knees. Your hands should be flat on the floor, with your wrists directly beneath your shoulders for support and fingers spread wide. Each knee should be directly beneath your hips.
  2. Keep your spine in one straight line that extends from the top of your head all the way down to the base of your tailbone.
  3. Maintain some flexibility in your neck, but keep your head pointed downward and outward. This helps you keep a straight spine.

Moving into Cow Pose: Inhale

  1. From the neutral position, raise your tailbone upward by tilting your pelvis.
  2. Let your toes support your feet, curling them flat against the floor.
  3. Engage your abs as you feel your stomach naturally drop down.
  4. Allow the curvature of your spine to ripple upward from your tailbone to the base of your neck. Roll your shoulders down your back.
  5. When the movement reaches your neck, steadily lift your head up toward the ceiling.
  6. Hold for a moment.

Moving into Cat Pose: Exhale

  1. Again leading with your pelvis, tilt it forward until you feel your tailbone start to tuck.
  2. Push your toes through until the tops of your feet are flat against the floor.
  3. Raise your abs up and in with the same rippling motion as before.
  4. Round your shoulders and lower your head until your eyes are facing your navel.
  5. Hold for a moment.

The motion of your spine is so important to the Cat-Cow Pose that beginners often forget another vital element: breathing. Remember to:

  • Inhale as you move into Cow Pose.
  • Exhale as you go to Cat Pose.

Aim for 5 to 10 breaths per set.

Time each breath so that you breathe in and out in time with the motions. The fullest extent of your inhale should match the fullest upward arch of the Cow Pose. The same goes for the Cat Pose: Your lungs should empty at the same time as you reach your furthest point of the downward arch.

For this pose, getting the breathing right helps perfect the moves. A full pair of lungs gives you that sense of buoyancy that matches the upward motions of the Cow Pose. Emptying those lungs then helps you deflate naturally into the Cat Pose.

For a great foundation in positive yoga habits, it’s best to think about breathing and movement as one from the very start of your yoga journey. Don’t try and perfect the moves first before focusing on your breathing. These will help you get the most out of the exercise.

The Cat-Cow Pose is super helpful to those of us who spend way too much time sitting at our desks (looking at you, most of us.) One research review linked a sedentary lifestyle to health concerns, ranging from slowed metabolism to impeded blood flow. Back pain, however, is the undisputed king of office chair problems. And Cat-Cow can help with that.

Regular flexing and extension of the spine can boost circulation in its discs. Despite the movement being so simple, you’re helping your back through the key motions it needs for supporting itself. That’s good for cutting back pain, maintaining good posture, and boosting balance.

Yoga in general is associated with improved mental well-being and lower anxiety. One survey showed that it can be a solid basis for enhanced health behaviors — so people who regularly give yoga a fair shot may be more likely to focus on other aspects of their well-being.

The simplicity of Cat-Cow makes it a fantastic introduction to yoga if you’re just starting out — a gateway for aligned chakras, if you will.

Cat-Cow is a yoga staple because of its simplicity and effectiveness. Of course, variety is the spice of life. So, if you want to try something different, we’ve got you covered. These variations target the same areas as Cat-Cow, but have tweaks that make them even more accessible.

Seated Cat-Cow

This modification is a favorite of chair yoga routines, and it’s often performed by older folks easing their way into things. If getting down on your hands and knees is an issue, try this:

  1. Begin by sitting in the center of a sturdy chair with your hands resting on your thighs.
  2. As you inhale, arch your back slowly so that your chest gradually opens and your head lifts.
  3. Hold for a moment.
  4. As you exhale, round your back so that your chin naturally comes to rest on your chest.
  5. Hold for a moment.
  6. Repeat for 5 to 10 breaths.

Remember, you’re going for the same natural spine motion as with the traditional Cat-Cow. Let the rippling motion of your back lead the way. Don’t force movement with your head or arms.

Standing Cat-Cow

The standing variation of Cat-Cow plays a role in a lot of exercise warmups. It’s a good stretch for your hips and glutes, as well as your back. Another great pick if you’re just getting into yoga or incorporating it into your main workout. To do it:

  1. Start with your legs at shoulder width, with your knees bent and your hands at the base of your thighs, just above those knees.
  2. Keep a neutral spine. You’re looking for that same straight line from the crown of your head to your tailbone.
  3. Inhale. Starting from the tailbone, tilt your hips and arch your back so that your head raises to the ceiling.
  4. Hold for a moment.
  5. Exhale. Curve your back so that your head drops down until you’re looking at your navel.
  6. Hold for a moment.
  7. Repeat for 5 to 10 breaths.

Child’s Pose

A slight step up from Cat-Cow, the Child’s Pose (Balasana) is still an easy yoga pose for beginners. Unlike Cat-Cow, this is a rest position. You’re meant to hold it for a few minutes (or as long as feels comfortable) rather than maintaining a continuous flow between moves. Try it if you feel like mixing things up:

  1. Begin by kneeling on the floor, sitting on your heels. Your knees should be held hip-width apart and your big toes should be touching.
  2. Exhale. Bring your stomach down between your thighs, place your forehead on the floor.
  3. Spread your arms forward, palms flat against the ground.
  4. Point your hips down toward your navel so they’re nestled between your inner thighs.
  5. Hold this pose for 1 to 3 minutes, focusing on your breaths throughout.

Cat-Cow is a simple, introductory yoga pose, which means your risk of injury is low. But that makes it even more crucial to develop a solid foundation in case you want to take your new love of yoga further.

If you’re currently working through any injury to your neck or spine, talk with a healthcare professional before you get into yoga. Perfecting the Cat-Cow means bearing two important points in mind to avoid some common yoga mistakes.

Avoid straining your neck

Be sure that you’re in full control of your neck movement at all times. When you move your head up toward the ceiling, don’t overextend. When you return to Cat Pose, don’t force your head downward before it feels natural.

The key here is to keep your shoulders relaxed, with your shoulder blades square and drawn down away from your ears.

Move your back, not your arms

This is a spine exercise. If you’re moving with your elbows and arms, that means you’re cheating your spine out of some stretchy, relaxation-y goodness. Keep those arms straight to make sure you’re moving the right bits of the body.

With any form of exercise, it’s important never to forget the basics. Laying a solid foundation for your yoga progression with simple, effective exercises like Cat-Cow prepares you to delve into a whole new world of balance, healthy choices, and improved flexibility.

Focus on getting the fundamentals spot-on, paying special attention to your breathing. With that under your belt, you’re free to explore wherever your intuition takes you.

Good luck!