If your morning routine consists of hitting the snooze button multiple times, groggily scrolling through social media or, worst of all, gripping your lower back in pain, it might be time to replace your old habits with a feel-good morning stretch.
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The cat-cow stretch is a simple mobility drill that gently nudges your body awake, loosens tight muscles and can help relieve back pain. Best of all, you don't even have to get out of bed to do it!
How to Do the Cat-Cow Stretch
- Begin on your hands and knees.
- Exhale as you round your back, pull the belly button toward your spine and tuck your chin toward your chest.
- Starting at the tailbone, release one segment of your spine at a time, relaxing through the lumbar spine, thoracic spine (mid-back) and finally, your cervical spine as you lift your chin upward into full flexion.
- Then reverse the motion. Be aware of what segments feel stuck. Breathe into these spaces and remember to move slowly.
- Continue to move between Cat and Cow pose, letting your body move with your breath.
- Start with 30 seconds at a time and work your way up to 2 to 3 minutes — whatever you feel you need.
As you extend your spine and lift your tailbone and crown of the head upward, allowing your torso to descend toward the ground, inhale and imagine charging up your body, mind and spirit with revitalizing energy.
As you flex and round your spine, exhale fully, drawing the navel to the spine and creating space between your shoulder blades. Imagine letting go of anything that does not serve you physically, mentally or emotionally.
3 Benefits of Doing the Cat-Cow Stretch Every Morning
1. A Healthier (and Potentially Pain-Free) Back
Whether you pushed your body hard in a workout the day before or you're feeling stiff from being hunched over a computer for hours, the cat-cow stretch can help counter negative effects.
"I give cat-cow pose to every person I treat whether they have an issue or not," says David Lee, a sports chiropractor and mobility specialist in Hermosa Beach, California. "Moving the spine brings nutrition to the joints. It's beneficial for longevity as it helps prevent degeneration of the spine."
Performing cat-cow in the morning can be a form of intentional movement — it's not just what you do but how you do it. Lee recommends performing it segmentally as described above.
The slow, controlled movement brings activation to each segment of the spine to improve mobility. By bringing more awareness and activation to each joint of the spine, you build the connection between brain and body, improving neurological control, Lee says.
2. A Less Stressful Start to Your Day
When you wake up and immediately let your mind get carried away with your to-do list, you set yourself up to rush through your entire day stressed out. Taking even 30 seconds to start with a dynamic yoga pose that connects movement to breath helps mitigate that stress response.
Your breath builds a bridge between the body, mind and emotions. By bringing awareness to your breath and how your body feels, you can cultivate more self awareness, presence and inner peace.
Deep breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, which can help slow your heart rate and lower or stabilize blood pressure, according to a November 2019 review in Mindfulness. Mentally, yogic breathing and mindfulness helps you disengaging from distracting thoughts, which can mean a greater sense of calm and improved ability to deal with stress, the review states.
3. An Improved Sense of Overall Wellbeing
The cat-cow stretch not only provides a gentle and soothing stretch to your back, shoulders and abdomen, but it also massages your internal organs, promoting health and improved circulation and helping you feel great from the inside out.
There's no one right way to do the posture to reap the benefits. In fact, you may receive even more from the pose by moving according to what feels best for your body in the moment. It's less about what the pose looks like and more about what it feels like.
Your movement through cat-cow doesn't need to be rigid or structured. Make the movement your own. Add hip or wrist circles, draw one hip toward the same-side shoulder, then switch. Or try keeping your eyes closed and move in ways that feel good to your body.