The NEW Cat-Cow

If you’ve ever been to the internet, you know there is a lot. When it comes to prenatal yoga there is an abundance of posts (blogs, pins, instagrams) that suggest that the “Cat-Cow” is a great exercise for pregnant women. I’m going to get crazy and go against the internet here…

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In the years that I’ve been teaching prenatal yoga I have also touted this as a great option for mamas. In an effort to offer the best and most up-to-date information to my students I continually seek out new information, training and education about pregnancy, anatomy and alignment. During one of my last teacher trainings one of the (very educated and experienced) teachers in my class created a great discussion about how the traditional cat-cow was actually very poor alignment for the neck and spine. I spent several months thinking about it, trying out new options, bouncing ideas off my peers and mentors and testing it out with my pregnant yoga students. I’ve finally arrived at a NEW way of doing the cat-cow.

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Here’s the scoop (hehe)… In the traditional “cow” position there is way too much strain as the neck pulls back and the spine shifts into a highly exaggerated curve. Additionally, this excessive arch in the back pushes the belly forward more than is reasonable for an expecting mama. Overstretching the belly can lead to a separation of the Linea Alba and possibly Diastasis Recti. When I started “shape shifting” this pose I realized I would NEVER asked a pregnant woman to do the actions of the traditional cat cow if they were sitting in a chair, standing up etc.

The traditional “cat” position has some issues too. The rounding in the upper back and neck puts pressure on the spine in the opposite direction of the way it’s meant to carry our weight load. The force needed to draw the mid and lower back up in to an arch requires far more abdominal engagement than is appropriate for the pregnant belly. And, to where are they going to draw in the belly as they arch the back? The space is occupied! One of my favorite mentors, a highly respected PT, calls this type of movement “over-efforting”. Indeed. It’s possible that this extreme engagement of the core can also lead to separation of the abdominal tissue as well.

Don’t throw out the cat-cow with the bath water, there is a solution! The New Cat-Cow. My intention for teaching this movement has always been to increase mobility in the pelvis and the hips. This can still be achieved, I think more effectively, by keeping the neck and shoulders in a neutral position while the hips take the lead on the movement. The opening, releasing, stretching and mobility is still there, but the unnecessary actions in the neck and shoulders are eliminated.

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Give it a try. If you’ve been doing the old cat-cow it will take some getting used to. The response and feedback I’ve received from my students is overwhelmingly in favor of the New Cat Cow. I hear things like “it feels so much better”, “I didn’t like the way it felt when I arched my back the old way, it cut off my breath”, “the new way doesn’t stretch my belly out so much” and “I get more movement in my hips because I’m not messing around with my neck”.
There you have it. When you see those posts that show pictures of mamas in the extreme (old) version of cat-cow, just… don’t. If you already did, it’s ok! You can change your approach now. Remember I said that I TAUGHT the old cat-cow for years in my prenatal yoga classes? Rather than stress out over that, I remind myself of the wise words from Maya Angelou: When we know better, we do better.


Alicia Poldino