If you need a thoracic spine stretch, do a round Cat Pose to Cow Pose, more commonly referred to as Cat-Cow pose. This pose increases flexibility and relieves tightness in the spine, but is also one of the most effective ab stretches and neck stretches. Since you're tucking and rounding your pelvis, Cat-Cow is also considered one of the best hip stretches. If you're bloated, Cat-Cow can help relieve gas by massaging your abdominal organs, improving digestion.
As a yoga instructor, this is one of my favorite ways to begin class, since the combination of these two poses helps warm up your spine and relieves back and neck tension. But you don't need a yoga class as an excuse to do Cat-Cow! Get on the floor whenever you need to stretch your neck, spine, hips, and abs — it feels great to do this pose in the morning, after an ab workout, or before bed to help your body and mind settle down. This can also be used as a moving meditation; just close your eyes and focus on long, deep breaths as you round and arch your back.
How to Do Cat-Cow Pose
- Begin with your hands and knees on the floor. Make sure your knees are under your hips, and your wrists are under your shoulders. Begin in a neutral spine position, with your back flat and your abs engaged. Take a big deep inhale.
- On the exhale, round your spine up towards the ceiling, and imagine you're pulling your belly button up towards your spine, really engaging your abs. Tuck your chin towards your chest, and let your neck release. This is your cat-like shape.
- On your inhale, arch your back, let your belly relax and go loose. Lift your head and tailbone up towards the sky — without putting any unnecessary pressure on your neck. This is the Cow portion of the pose.
- Continue flowing back and forth from Cat Pose to Cow Pose, and connect your breath to each movement — inhale for Cow Pose and exhale on Cat Pose.
- Repeat for at least 10 rounds, or until your neck, spine, hips, and abs are warmed up.
- If you're unable to explore the full range of motion in Cat-Cow, just round and arch your spine as much as you can.
- If this pose bothers your knees, place a rolled up towel or yoga rug underneath your knees.
- If having your palms flat on the floor bothers your wrists, try making relaxed fists, and rest your knuckles on the floor instead.
- If being on the floor puts too much pressure on the body, you can do this pose while seated on the floor or in a chair. Just rest your hands on your knees and tuck your chin to your chest to do the Cat part, then lift your head and chest to do the Cow part.
If you want to get more out of your basic Cat-Cow, instead of just arching and rounding the spine in one linear movement, bring some side-to-side and circular movements to your hips to improve your range of motion.