How to Use Cat Pose to Relieve Your Back Pain

If you’re searching for some exercises to help you relieve your back pain yourself, you need to learn Cat pose. This one simple yoga pose (that’s also used in Pilates) will help you stretch and strengthen important back muscles.

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If you’re unsure of whether you’re having back issues, Cat pose is a great test. When your spinal muscles are happy and healthy, you completing this exercise feels like a marvelous massage for your spine.

However, if your back muscles are grumpy, this pose will also let you know about it–STAT.

I remember learning Cat pose. I was young. My body was supple. Every roll felt like a magical accomplishment of my body.

Then, I had a kid.

I returned to my Mat fully expecting the wonderful spinal massage I was so accustomed to. Instead, I was greeted with a rusty clunk. I felt like an old truck that had just dropped its muffler.

It was a horrible feeling, so I decided to work and figure out what I needed to do to fix this pose.

What I discovered shocked me.

What was so shocking?

In all the years I had been practicing Cat pose, I hadn’t fully realized the true beauty of this exercise.

I thought it was a warm-up, something to get your spine moving and then something to move away from. It was the exercise you should do to get you ready to do the much harder exercise that you really wanted to do.

I had no idea that this exercise was both a diagnostic tool and a therapeutic exercise.

This one simple move could quickly tell you how messed up someone’s back muscles were, how weak someone’s core was, or how badly that person’s body was coping and living with pain.

Then, once you realize where your tightness and/or weakness are, practicing this exercise is the key to stretch the tight muscles and strengthen the weak muscles.

Which muscles? If you’re searching for more information about the muscles that could be causing your back pain, check out the iliocostalis lumborum, quadratus lumborum, and psoas. They are frequent mischief-makers.

Related: If you’re searching for a comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself back pain relief that will give you permanent results, check out my online course, Spinal Rejuvenation.

A Little History on Cat Pose

Cat pose is also known as Marjariasana or Bidalasana. This popular pose is one of several yoga poses that Joseph Pilates borrowed when he created his exercise regime.

This pose builds core strength and spinal flexibility. It’s also a great opportunity to ensure that the muscles on both the left and right sides fire at the same time to accomplish the movement.

Are the yoga and Pilates versions of Cat pose the same?

On the surface, the yoga version of Cat pose and the Pilates version, “Cat stretch,” appear to be the same. You roll through your spine, stretching spinal muscles and strengthening abdominal muscles.

However, the two different versions of Cat pose have two main differences from each other.

  1. Pilates normally moves from Table top to Cat stretch then back to Table top. In yoga, it’s more likely that you’ll move from a position called “Cow” to Cat and back to Cow. For what we’re doing today, we will just discuss moving from Table top to Cat. You can read this post if you’d like to learn how to move from Cat to Cow.
  2. Second, Pilates cueing frequently gives you direction and asks you to pay attention to which body parts move first when you roll up into your cat stretch and when you roll back to Table top. In yoga, you tend to just focus one moving to the rounded shape.

I think you will notice a difference in how the movement feels when you give yourself direction about which body part to move first. Personally, I think this is the best way to build strong abdominal muscles and notice exactly which areas of your back need a good stretch.

How to Do Cat Pose

cat stretch is a great quadratus lumborum stretch
  1. Begin on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and your knees under your hips.
  2. Lift your belly button toward your spine to support your low back (lumbar spine). Make sure your shoulder blades are resting flat on the back of your rib cage. Rotate your pelvis out so you feel like you’re sticking your butt out to the wall behind you. Reach from your head through your tail.
  3. For this next step, your goal is to achieve an arched spine while you exhale. There are a few ways to accomplish this. You can tuck your pelvis and roll up one vertebra at a time, with your head coming up last. Or, you could drop your head first and roll up one vertebra at a time, with your tailbone tuck being the last movement. However, you could also drop the head and tuck the tailbone at the same time, sequentially rolling until the middle of your spine reaches up to the ceiling as your apex. Like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, there’s no wrong way to move through cat stretch–as long as you are mindful of your movement. Use your whole exhale to move your body.
  4. As you inhale, return to Table top. Again, you have several choices of how to get to Table top. You could rotate your pelvis back to neutral and move sequentially through your spine until your head returns to neutral. Or, you could lengthen your head and neck to neutral and return one vertebra at a time until your pelvis rotates back to neutral. Also, you could start at the apex of the spine and start lengthening simultaneously toward the head and pelvis. It’s up to you. They’re all good choices. Use your whole inhale to lengthen back to Table top.

For the Visual Learners…

Sometimes, it’s just easier to learn by watching and hearing someone instruct. If you learn best by hearing instruction or seeing something happen, this is for you. Here’s a video to talk you through how to do Cat pose.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re looking into Cat pose today because you have some back pain you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.

Or, if you want a free taste of what you’ll learn in Spinal Rejuvenation, click here to download The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! After experimenting with the very best and easiest ways to relieve hip + back pain, I figured out a powerful combination of exercises to ditch pain and get back to living a completely active life. Are you ready to get started?