The Synchronization of Breath & Movement: Cat/Cow

by Anika Devore | September 8, 2015 4:03 am


It is very common to begin a yoga practice,  after the initial establishment of breath, by moving through cat and cow pose. With a nice stable base in table top, this flow offers grounding as we begin to gently open up the back body and activate the core. It’s most vital purpose, however, is the opportunity it allows to connect the breath with movement. Let’s take a look at both poses individually to break down alignment and expression of breath.

 Cow ( Bitilasana )  

Although we refer to the flow as cat/cow, it is common to start with cow first.

  1. Set up in table top position hands under shoulders, knees and feet hips width distance.
  2. You can tuck your toes for more stability and less pressure on the knees, or keep them untucked to stretch the tops of the ankles. Either way gently press into the earth, as if you could lift your knees off the ground.
  3. On an inhale, soften the belly towards the floor, while keeping an engagement in the abdominals so you don’t dump into the low back.
  4. Shift your gaze up to match the curve of your spine, but don’t crunch the neck.
  5. Soften the elbows, so there is a slight bend, engaging the arm muscles as you spread your fingertips wide.
  6. Pull the heart forward as if you were dragging your hands back to meet your knees. This will naturally drop your shoulders away from the ears, but don’t force it.

Anatomy of the Inhale  

We use the inhales during the practice to find a lifting quality. As we  inhale, our  lungs expand like a balloon filling up with air, so it’s natural that we should find buoyancy in this breath.  In cow, the inhale lifts the sternum, pulling the heart forward and carrying our gaze to the sky. The inhale is our expression, our outward reach, pairing nicely with heart openers and extensions  of the spine like cow.

Cat ( Marjyasana )  

  1. From the extension of cow pose, start to draw the navel to the spine, bringing the back through a neutral tabletop.
  2. Keeping the flow of movement, continue to draw the the belly button in so that your spine starts to round.
  3. Use the exhale to initiate this movement, following the exhale to the last drop.
  4. Keep the fingers spread wide as you push the floor away, doming  the back.
  5. Let the head drop without forcing the chin into the chest, completing the arch in the spine.

Anatomy of the Exhale

The exhale has a deep effect to the workings of the core and is therefore used when the abdominals are most engaged. In order to reach the end of an exhale, a deep contraction must occur in the very pit  of the abdomen, forcing all air out. In poses of flexion such as cat, the exhale allows us to reach maximum front body compression. As the inhale is expansive, it would be difficult to round in on this breath. The exhale is protective and brings the attention inwards for introspection.


The breath in this pose guides and accentuates the flexion and extension of the spine. Because of the opposing motions of the spine we start to find the middle ground where a neutral position should be. This establishes the alignment of the spine in poses such as tadasana(mountain), where our postural  habits may misdirect the body. Take five to seven rounds of cat/cow, moving slowly and breathing deeply.

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