Hatha Yoga for the Back - The Cat Stretch - Yoga Practice Blog

Hatha Yoga for the Back – The Cat Stretch

yoga for the backBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP

Gentle Hatha Yoga for the back, usually helps us in many ways. Posturing and stretching movements are excellent for all kinds of different ailments, aches, and pains. Lower back pain can be extremely debilitating, which can make sitting, standing, and laying down a painful experience. A stretch that rounds the back off, and is especially effective for the lower back, is the cat stretch. When this movement is combined with Cow Pose in a very gentle and slow flowing practice, many students experience pain relief. That said, if the gentle movements of a slow Cat/Cow stretch cause any pain, this exercise should be stopped immediately.


To help with back pain, the cat stretch will need to be practiced on a daily basis. Due to the fact that it is practiced on the hands and knees, investing in a Yoga mat is a wise idea to save the knees from excessive discomfort; one of the keys to making this pose a daily practice is making it as painless as possible.


The cat stretch promotes proper alignment and targets two muscles in particular: the rectus abdominis and the erector spinae. The rectus abdominis is the part of the abdominal muscles that controls the tilt of the pelvis, and the spine, while the erector spinae is a substantial part of the muscle network of the back. Any problems with either one of these two muscles can be a source of lower back pain. Exercises that target these areas, specifically, are especially therapeutic for sufferers of lower back pain.


Performing the Cat Stretch

Step 1: Roll out a Yoga mat onto the floor. If no mat is available, a towel, rug, quilt, or blanket may be substituted. Get down on hands and knees. The spine should be kept in a neutral position (Table pose). The arms should be directly under the shoulders, while knees should be directly under the hips. Knees should be equal to hips in terms of distance apart. Inhale, while holding the Table pose.

Step 2: To move into the Cat Stretch, begin exhaling slowly, curve the spine downward in the direction of the floor, tucking the tail bone down, and allowing the head to sag in a relaxed manner, while the chin slowly draws toward your collar bone without any force. The shape of the back and spine should resemble an arch.

Step 3: At the peak of the Cat Stretch, draw the navel toward the spine, while keeping the abs tight. Focus on expanding the ribcage, pulling the belly in and up. The exhale finishes here.

Step 4: Inhale and return to the Table Pose, keeping the spine in a neutral position.


This Yoga technique can be repeated as many times as desired, although four repetitions are a good therapeutic start. Remember to avoid overdoing new movements. To counter pose this posture, a back bend is often recommended. The most common counter pose to the Cat Stretch is Cow Pose, which is also practiced on hands and knees, with the spine going into an upward curve. Other back bends to consider are Camel or Fish Pose.

Gentle Hatha Yoga for the back is a viable solution for pain reduction or potential elimination of pain.  At the same time, balancing the muscle tension around the spine may correct the problem at the source. If you sit at a desk and have constant back pain, a sequence of movements may help. It should be understood that a back maintenance routine can include any number of methods and postures to be effective.


Physical therapy, Yoga, Pilates, and Qigong are great methods for preventing pain and aligning the spine. However, in the case of a painful flare up, a professional medical consultation is needed. As always, consult with your physician before beginning any new form of exercise.


It should be noted that the Cat Stretch barely skims the surface, when considering a healthy back maintenance program. While a Cat stretch is much better than nothing, a sequence, or lesson plan, designed for pain prevention and healthy back maintenance is wise, and a gentle program could easily be practiced before bedtime. The point is to gently stretch and strengthen muscles around the spine. When postures are practiced in a slow bedtime sequence, this enhances healthy sleep patterns as well.


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