It surprises me that I have yet to write about cat-cow pose (Marjaiasana-Bitilasana). It has been in my practice since starting yoga and it is frequently in my practice.
What has always got me about this pose is it's name! Cat and Cow together at last...well, maybe only in yoga. As a self-proclaimed non-cat lover and a city girl with rural roots (yes, I've been close to cattle but never milked one or done anything with them other than moo at them), if based solely on the pose name, I'm sure I'd never do it!
Nonetheless, with a history of back injury, this pose has been fundamental to my back health. It helps with mobility but also flexibility through the pelvis as it tilts the pelvis anteriorly in cow pose and posteriorly in cat pose. Completing multiple cycles of cat-cow can also massage the gastrointestinal and reproductive organs. Bonus!
The other quite profound role of cat-cow pose is it spontaneously synchronizes breath with movement. As the chest collapses forward in cat, the lungs are compressed which naturally forces an exhalation. Alternatively, as the chest opens into cow pose, the lungs expand and inhalation occurs. The breath flows seamlessly with the compressing and opening of the abdominal cavity. And in my books, nothing beats breathing well. What an benefit!
Cat-cow pose can be a tricky pose if one has a neck injury, wrist or knee pain so I like to do a seated cat-cow as an option with hands supported (like on a table top). The range of motion is not as great but it is still effective in moving the spine through a range of motion. I use it frequently as an exercise physiologist and very often patients wonder about the name too. I usually speak of the angry cat and they get the cat part but trying to explain why the extension is cow, is another story (refer to the video above). I usually just moo myself into cow pose and hope that is enough for them to remember how to do it!
Never to late to write about the classic poses,
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.