Lessons from the Mat: How to Do a Cow and Cat Pose

Article posted in: Fitness

By Eliza Darling

I am a thirty-something-year-old yoga teacher/practitioner, wife and mother of a toddler, who searches daily for things to inspire my creative and physical energy. My go-to for igniting this spark is yoga, and no matter the mood or condition of my body, it always leads me to where I need to go. The most common lessons I learn are: a.) what I think I want is often far different than what I actually need; and b.) as long as I am keenly aware of needs, I can find an end to meet them. These lessons are not only learned on my mat, but are applied to the choices I make throughout the day, long after the mat is rolled up and put away.

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After taking an overnight flight with my sleepless child and slumbering husband, I arrived at my in-law’s home for the holidays in a terribly tired state, with little energy left for much more than indulging in holiday food and drink. When I awoke in the morning, still lacking sufficient sleep and feeling sluggish from the previous night’s indulgences, I wanted to crawl back into the cloud-like comfort of my bed. But before I had gone to sleep, I had committed to a yoga practice in the morning. Setting an intention for the following day the night before is something I do often, and gives me the motivation and direction I need when the story in my mind tells me to “forget it. Go back to sleep”. After I made this commitment to myself, I searched the web for a creditable yoga studio nearby with a class schedule that worked with what my day would likely look like (I usually like to practice first thing in the morning) and with rates that worked with my wallet (* most studios offer great intro rates that I take advantage of when I travel). When I got up in the morning (though I desperately wanted to jump ship on my intention) I had a clear and simple path to follow, and the motivation I needed was the trust that after my practice was over the quality of my entire day would improve.  And after a sweaty 75 minute practice, improved it was. There is a wonderful feeling of contentment and accomplishment that is experienced when you follow through with something that you know is in your best interest, even when all the currents of the river are working together to wash you down stream. Needless to say, as I drove home from the studio I felt strong, detoxed, and excited (rather than exhausted) for what the day had in store. I honored my body and mind, and in return, they gave the gift of vibrancy and health back to me.

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YOGA POSES OF THE WEEK: Bitilasana (Cow pose) and Marjaryasana (Cat pose)

I incorporate Cow/Cat pose within the first few minutes of almost every class I teach. These poses beautifully compliment each other, and after doing one the body intuitively asks for the other. Cow pose is the back bend and cow pose is the counter bend (or rounding of the back), together creating a balanced and smooth transition to move and warm the spine.


  • Can help improve posture by lengthening and mobilizing the spine.
  • Supports strengthening of the spine and the neck (an extension of the spine).
  • Stretches the hips, abdomen, and the spine.
  • May increase coordination by isolating each vertebrae during transition from one pose to the other.
  • Can help stimulate internal organs, by massaging the kidneys and the adrenal glands.
  • May create emotional balance by relieving stress and calming the mind.


  1. Start on all fours with shoulders stacked on top of wrists and hips on top of knees, and a neutral spine (no rounding or bending). Arms are straight, hands press into the mat, and fingers are spread wide.
    cat pose
  2. Inhale and drop the belly, lift the heart and tailbone towards the sky. Lift the gaze towards the ceiling only if it feels safe in your neck. (Cow Pose)
    cat pose
  3. Exhale and press into your hands, round the spine (doming the upper back), gaze at the naval, and tilt the tailbone down (pointing towards the back of the knees). Imagine that you are an angry cat. (Cat pose)
    cat pose
  4. Repeat the sequence at least 5 times (or as many as your body craves!).


  • Commit one breath to one movement. The longer and slower the breath, the longer each pose is held.
  • As soon as the breath is complete, move to the next pose. Never hold the breath.
  • Imagine each vertebrae moving independently of each other, rather than the spine moving as a whole.
  • Keep the arms straight to release into the chest and upper back.
  • Each knuckle should press down onto the mat as though they are trying to press through it.
  • Take your time, and savor each sensation as it arises in the body and the mind. The breath is the bridge that connects the two.

*Always consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

eliza darlingHawaii resident, mama and yoga instructor Eliza Darling has been practicing yoga for nearly a decade. After graduating from high school in the remote community of Hana on the eastern coast of Maui, she lived briefly in Europe, before moving to Honolulu to finish her undergraduate studies. It was there that she attended her first yoga class, and from that point on began to involve yogic techniques such as pranyama breathing and asana, into her physically active life. Shortly after earning a Bachelor’s of Arts from the Hawaii Pacific University, she and her husband moved to California, where she began to incorporate the physical and spiritual intricacies of yoga into her life through a disciplined practice. She furthered her dedication and passion for yoga by earning a 200 hour yoga teaching certificate through Corepower Yoga in San Diego, Calif.

Eliza and her husband moved back to Hana in early 2013, where she now teaches yoga full time in the small community of her childhood home. Her dynamic classes are a mix of Hatha and Power Vinyasa flow, integrating a deep focus on the breath, vigorous and creative sequencing, strong core work, precise attention to alignment, and set to the sounds of energizing playlists. Her classes are designed to inspire students to build and honor their physical strength and to arrive at a point of mental clarity by challenging their bodies and slowing and lengthening their breath. She encourages her students to create the vital bond between the body, mind, and breath. She also strives to create a bond in the community through the love and passion she and her students share for yoga.

Follow Eliza on Instagram @yogalovingypsy.