Chakravakasana: Yoga’s “Un” Cat-Cow Pose
Chakravakasana (also called “Cat Pose”) is often confused with a yoga pose called Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana). Although the two poses look similar, they have completely different effects and intentions. For most students, Viniyoga’s Cat Pose is much more beneficial than Cat-Cow, so much so that my teacher calls it the “un” Cat-Cow.
According to Gary Kraftsow, approximately 75 percent of Americans have increased thoracic kyphosis. Put in English, this means we have upper backs that are already too rounded. This happens primarily because of the activities we do in daily life. We sit in chairs, type at computers, drive cars, and do other activities that leave us in a hunched-forward position. To balance that, our yoga practice should strengthen and flatten our upper backs as well as stretch the fronts of our shoulders.
On the other hand, most of us have tight and weak lower backs, with increased lumbar lordosis. Meaning our lower backs are weak, tight, and overly arched. To balance this, our yoga practice should both strengthen and stretch our lower backs as well as strengthen our abdominal muscles.
Below is a photo of a student doing the pose most people call Cat-Cow. In the position on the left, she arches her low back in the “Cow” position. In the position on the right, she rounds her upper back in the “Cat” position. This increases the curvature of both her upper back and lower back—exactly the opposite of what most students need.
In the two photos below, the same student performs Chakravakasana. In the position on the left, she uses her abdominal muscles to support her low back while drawing her shoulder blades together to flatten her upper back. In the position on the right, she gently pulls in her belly while folding her hips toward her heels, gently stretching her low back.
For most students, the two positions of Chakravakasana effectively work together to restore balance to the spine and release back tension. Cat-Cow, on the other hand, may contribute to spinal imbalance and even increase back pain—even if it feels good while you’re doing it.
How to Practice Chakravakasana
Come to Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana), placing your hips directly above your knees and your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Your knees should be at least four inches apart, and your hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders.
On an inhalation, draw your shoulder blades together and lengthen your spine, keeping your belly lightly pulled in and your chin tucked slightly down. Do not allow your lower back to arch or your hips to move beyond your knees.
On an exhalation, contract your abdomen while moving your hips toward your heels and your forehead and elbows toward the floor. Notice the gentle stretch in your lower back.
On the following inhalation, return to the hands and knees position in step 1.
Repeat 6 to 8 times.
Chakravakasana is a gentle pose you can use to release tension and stretch your back any time of the day. I hope you enjoy it!
Reprinted with permission from TracyWeberblog.com
Tracy Weber, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT is a practicing yoga therapist, and also the author of the Downward Dog Mystery series, which won the Maxwell Award for fiction. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any way possible.
Tracy and her husband Marc live in Seattle with their crazy German shepherd pup, Ana. When she’s not writing, Tracy spends her time teaching yoga, trying to corral Ana, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite alehouse.
For more information on Tracy and the Downward Dog Mysteries, visit her author website: http://TracyWeberAuthor.com/.