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Cow Pose

Bitilasana is an easy, gentle way to warm up the spine before a more vigorous practice.


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Bitilasana (Cow Pose), a backbend, is commonly paired with Marjaryasana (Cat Pose) at the beginning of a vinyasa flow to warm up your body—especially your spine—for other poses. Cow helps relieve tension in your upper body, especially in your back, shoulders, and neck, and it gently massages the spine to increase mobility.

This simple pose allows for a strong front-body stretch, from chin to pubic bone. “Lift your tailbone to arch your back, letting your stomach hang toward the floor, drawing your shoulders away from your ears, and lifting your head,” says yoga teacher Nicola Jane Hobbs, author of Yoga Gym and Thrive Through Yoga.

When pairing this pose with Cat Pose, follow your breath: Move into Cat as you exhale, and into Cow on your inhalation.

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Sanskrit

Bitilasana (Bit-ill-Ah-SUN-aa)

bitila = cow

asana = pose

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Cow Pose basics

Pose Type: Backbend

Targets: Core

Benefits: Cow Pose warms up your spine, shoulders, and hips while improving body awareness and posture.

Other Cow Pose Perks

  • Activates your relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and deactivates your stress response (sympathetic nervous system) to help counter stress and anxiety
  • Can help you wind down for bed and improve sleep
  • Strengthens and stretches your back muscles, abdominals, shoulders, wrists, and hips
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How to

  1. Begin in Tabletop with your hips directly over your knees and your hands slightly ahead of your shoulders, shoulder-distance apart. Your wrist creases should be parallel to the front of your mat.
  2. Press down firmly through your hands.
  3. Inhale and arch your back by lowering your belly, lifting your chin and sternum, and broadening your collarbones.
  4. Keep the back of your neck long and your core slightly toned to find more movement in the mid and upper back.
  5. To release the pose, return to a neutral spine.
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Beginner tips

Protect your neck by broadening across your shoulder blades and drawing your shoulders down, away from your ears.

Explore the pose

Moving through a few rounds of Marjaryasana-Bitilasana (Cat-Cow Pose) wakes up your spine first thing in the morning or after an extending time spent sitting. Start off slowly and gently and deepen the movements as your spine becomes more accustomed to bending in both directions.

You can also do Cat-Cow standing, with your legs-hips width apart and your knees slightly bent, or seated. In either instance, place your hands on your thighs and round your spine as you exhale (Cat), and lifting your sternum as you exhale (Cow).

Be mindful!

  • Avoid or modify this pose if you have diastasis recti, the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominis muscles which meet at the midline of your stomach. Diastasis recti is very common during and following pregnancy since the muscles are stretched by the growing uterus. Pregnant bodies are already experiencing significant spinal extension, so intentionally entering into deep backbends risks causing separation in the linea alba, a fibrous structure that runs vertically down the midline of the abdomen, says yoga teacher Sarah Ezrin.
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Teacher tips

These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:

  • Initiate the movement of this pose from your hips, not your neck.
  • Keep your spine loose and move with your breath to avoid injury.
  • If your wrists are sensitive, do some moves to warm them up before moving into Cow Pose: rotate your wrists in both directions then make and release fists a few times.
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Variations

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Cow Pose with blocks

If you have pain in your wrists or hands, bring your forearms to blocks or the floor.

Cow Pose in a chair

Sit with your feet under your knees at hip-width apart. If you are relatively tall, you may need to sit on folded blankets to keep your knees at a 90-degree angles with your thighs parallel to the ground. If you are somewhat shorter, you may need to put folded blankets or blocks under your feet. Sit as tall and straight as you can. Inhale as you arch your spine, bring your sternum forward, and lift your chin slightly.

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Why we love this pose

“I spend so much time at my computer all day that I carry a lot of tension in my upper back and shoulders,” says Tracy Middleton, former Yoga Journal Brand Director. “In between meetings, I often come to my knees for a few Cat-Cows. Even just a few minutes of moving through these postures loosens my tight muscles. And because these poses call on you to move with your breath, I finish this exercise feeling calmer and more ready to take on the next item on my to-do list.”

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Preparatory and counter poses

Preparatory poses

Counter poses

Put Cow Pose into practice