Modern life can be stressful. You have to balance work, home life, school, family, and friendships. You also have to try and take some time for yourself to maintain your mental and physical well-being. Sometimes this balancing act can get a little bit overwhelming.
Thankfully, there are some things that you can do to help look after your body and manage your stress levels. Stretching in general can help to relieve stress and tension from your body.
However, there is one stretch in particular that is especially helpful for modern lifestyles. The cat stretch is perfect for spinal mobility which is great for anyone who spends a lot of time sitting at a desk.
What Is The Cat Stretch?
Before you can learn how to do the cat stretch and get all the possible benefits from it, you need to know what the cat stretch is and how it works. As we mentioned above, this stretch is perfect for improving your spinal mobility and flexibility.
It can also help to relieve tension in your back and shoulders.
You may have heard the cat stretches being referred to as the cat/cow pose. In this article, we will refer to them as the dipped and arched cat poses for added clarity.
The movement in both of these stretches or poses is designed to incorporate the entire spine, the shoulders, and the hips. When you regularly practice these stretches, you can help release tension from your back and improve your overall posture.
The best thing about these stretches is that you don’t really need any equipment at all to practice them. You can do this stretch anywhere, any time to help loosen up your back.
With that being said, if you are somewhere with a particularly hard floor, you might want something soft that can be placed under your knees to make it more comfortable.
Something like a yoga mat or a folded towel can work really well. You can even use a pillow or throw cushion to provide some padding.
Dipped Cat Stretch
The first stretch we are going to look at is the dipped cat stretch. This is also known as the cow pose from the cat/cow sequence. There are many benefits of doing this pose or stretch.
It will open your chest which will help increase your lung capacity and improve the amount of oxygen in your blood. It is also useful for improving flexibility in your shoulders and hip flexors.
Below is a step-by-step guide to the dipped cat stretch.
- To begin the stretch, you will need to be on all fours on a firm surface. If you need to, place a yoga mat or folded towel on the floor and position it under your knees. This can protect them from injury and make the stretch more comfortable. Make sure that your hands are positioned squarely beneath your shoulders and your knees are stacked beneath your hips.
- Your spine should feel supported by your shoulder blades in a neutral position. To know that your spine is in the right position, it shouldn’t be hanging from your shoulder blades, nor should it be pushed up too much. Spend a few moments making sure that your spine and shoulders are in a neutral position.
- You should then lift your head so that you are looking at the wall opposite you. This should cause your breast bone to slide forwards and upwards, opening your chest cavity. You may feel a gentle pulling in your chest muscles.
- At the same time as opening your chest, you should tilt your pelvis. Your sitting bones and tailbone should be pointing toward the ceiling. Think of it like a cat’s tail lifting up when it is happy.
- Hold this position for a few seconds. Make sure to focus on your breathing throughout the pose. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
In order to get the most out of this exercise there are a few things that you should remember.
- It is important to remember that the aim of the stretch is to create a continuous curve along the length of your spine. The stretch should run from the base of your skull all the way to your tailbone. It can help to imagine that you are holding something in the curve of your back.
- When you lift your head up to begin the stretch, make sure that you are lifting your entire head. Doing so will help to avoid compressing the base of your skull and the top of your spine. If you don’t elevate your head properly you may feel discomfort at the top of your spine during the stretch.
- One of the most important things to remember when doing this stretch is that you don’t want to overdo things. It is important to make sure that you aren’t over-arching your lower back. If you feel any discomfort in your lower back during the stretch, make the curve in your spine more gentle.
Arched Cat Stretch
The other cat stretch is the arched cat stretch which is also known as the cat pose in the cat/cow flow. This is a stretch that is incredibly useful for releasing tension from your shoulders and lower back.
It is also a great way to build your core strength as well as strength in your arms, wrists, and shoulders.
Below is a step-by-step guide to the arched cat stretch.
- You need to begin this stretch from the same position as you started the dipped cat position. Your spine should be in a neutral position and feel relaxed and supported. Make sure that your wrists are directly beneath your shoulders and your knees are directly beneath your hips.
- For this pose, you will need to drop your head down between your shoulders. Lower your gaze so that you are looking along your body, toward the wall behind you. Allow your head to gently hand between your shoulders when you reach the limit of your neck’s flexibility. Do not force your head lower than is comfortable.
- As you drop your head down, tuck your pelvis forward. This should make your sitting bones point more toward the floor than the wall.
- Your spine should form a gentle curve that arches upward toward the ceiling. The curve should be fairly uniform along the length of your spine. If you feel any discomfort during this pose, you should return to a more neutral position.
Here are some tips to help you get the biggest benefit from the arched cat pose.
- It is important that you make sure that you are moving your spine in a smooth and continuous way. Try to avoid any sudden or sharp movements that may cause injury. When you first begin to move your back into the arched shape, you might feel the movement of your spine is less than smooth. This should alleviate as your body warms up.
- You can let your head relax and hang between your shoulders when you are at your full arch position. This can help to provide more stretch and tension relief at the top of your spine.
Cat Stretch Flow
Although these two stretches can be completed in isolation and provide many benefits, it is unusual to do so. Instead, these two poses are usually combined to create a flowing movement that provides a dynamic stretch and helps to improve the mobility of your spine.
You can choose whether you begin your cat stretch flow with the dipped or arched pose. After holding the initial pose for a few breaths, you should gently transition to the second pose and hold it for a few breaths. Repeat the cycle for as long as you need to feel released.
When you are transitioning between the poses, make sure that you are moving your spine in a smooth and fluid motion. Do not make any jarring or jolting movements.
If at any point during the flow, you begin to feel new or increasing pain in your spine, shoulders, or hips, you should immediately stop the exercise and rest. If the pain persists during or beyond the exercise you should seek medical advice.
Cat Stretch Alternatives And Modifications
There may be times when you are unable to get on the floor and position yourself on all fours to complete this exercise. This can be unfortunate, especially if you feel a lot of tension in your shoulders, hips, and spine.
Thankfully, there are ways that you can modify the movement to accommodate limited mobility.
Seated Cat Stretch
Below is a step-by-step guide to performing the cat stretch flow from a seated position.
- Sit on a firm, supportive chair. A kitchen chair works well for this. Make sure that you are positioned more toward the front of the chair. Your hands should be placed on your knees and your spine should be straight. Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed to start with.
- Roll your body weight onto the front of your sitting bones, tilting your pelvis forward. Lift your gaze and slide your breastbone forward to open your chest. This should begin to arch your back gently.
- Hold the position for a few moments. Focus on your breath and keep your shoulders down.
- Gently roll your body weight onto the back of your sitting bones, tilting your pelvis backward. Let your head gently drop forward, bringing your chin in toward your chest. This should open the back of your rib cage. Use your arms and shoulders to arch the spine forward and round the shoulder blades.
- Hold this position for a few moments, keeping your breathing steady. Make sure your shoulders don’t come up to your ears.
- Repeat this flow as many times as necessary to release tension.
You can do these stretches as a static stretch or as an active movement. If you want a static stretch that can help to release tension from your back, you will need to hold each pose for around 30 seconds before moving to the opposite stretch.
If you are looking for a more active movement to get your body moving and to improve mobility, you will want to keep a more constant movement between each stretch. Make sure that your movement is fluid and gentle between the two stretches.
Again, if you begin to feel pain at any point, or if existing pain or discomfort begins to worsen, you should discontinue the stretch immediately. You may need to seek medical advice to avoid further injury.
Benefits Of The Cat Stretch
There are many benefits of regularly incorporating cat stretches into your daily workout routine. Below are just a few of the main benefits that you can expect from this stretch and flow.
Strengthening And Lengthening
Regularly practicing the cat/cow pose is a great way to improve the strength of almost all your muscles.
Your arms, legs, and glutes are all strengthened by supporting your spine and body weight. Your core is also strengthened by practicing the arching and dipping movements.
Because strength is built through body weight and movement while stretching, the muscle tone that you get from this exercise is long and lean.
This can result in lengthened limbs and muscles that are incredibly elegant and slender. This is a common aesthetic that many people who practice yoga aspire to.
As with any kind of stretching, cat stretches can help to improve your flexibility. Not only does it help improve the flexibility of your spine and your neck, but it also has a significant effect on your hips.
This is a benefit that people don’t often think about with these particular stretches. Because the majority of the focus is on the spine, people forget about the other parts of the body that are involved.
The dipped cat pose in particular is great for releasing tension from the hip flexor muscles and improving flexibility over time. This can be useful for a range of more complex yoga poses and other exercises including running or jogging.
As we mentioned earlier, the dipped cat pose helps to truly open up your chest and your breastbone. This also helps to release your diaphragm.
This allows you to take deeper breaths while you are holding the stretch. However, it can also help you to breathe more deeply during your everyday activities.
Allowing the chest to be more open and releasing tension from your chest muscles helps your chest open more easily when you are breathing. This helps you to get more oxygen into your bloodstream and helps you to feel more awake and rejuvenated.
The dipped cat and arched cat poses have many benefits for your overall health and well-being. It is also a simple combination of stretches that people of all abilities can incorporate into their routines.
Best of all, you can do this stretch anywhere, any time to help relieve any tension and stiffness in your body. Use it as a warm-up or a cool-down for the rest of your yoga workout.