Yoga Backbends

Cow Pose

Cow Pose 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 towards 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.

Cow Pose basics

Sanskrit: Bitilasana (Bit-ill-AH-sun-ah)

Pose Type: Backbend

Targets: Core

Why we love it: “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, 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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Pose benefits

Cow Pose warms up your spine, shoulders, and hips to prepare for a rigorous yoga asana practice. It can be calming, relaxing, and help you manage stress.

Cow Pose: Step-by-step instructions

  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.

Beginner’s tip

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

Teaching Bitilasana

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.

Variation: Cow Pose with blocks

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

Preparatory poses

Counter poses