Cakravakasana: the “Un” Cat-Cow

Cakravakasana (also called “Cat”) is often confused with a yoga pose called Cat-Cow.  Although the two poses look similar, they have completely different effects and intentions.   For most students, Viniyoga’s Cat is much more beneficial than Cat-Cow.  So much so, that my teacher calls it the “un” Cat-Cow.

According to Gary, approximately 75% of Americans have increased thoracic kyphosis.  Put in English, we have upper backs that are already too rounded.  This happens primarily because of the activities we do in daily life.  We sit in chairs, type at computers, drive cars,  and do other activities that leave us in a hunched forward position.  To balance that, our yoga practice should strengthen and flatten our upper backs as well as stretch the fronts of our shoulders.

On the other hand, most of us have tight and weak lower backs, with increased lumbar lordosis. Meaning our lower backs are weak, tight and overly arched.  To balance this, our yoga practice should both strengthen and stretch our lower backs as well as strengthen our abdominal muscles.

Below is a photo of a student doing the pose most people call Cat-Cow.  In the position on the left, she arches her low back in the “Cow” position.  In the position on the right, she rounds her upper back in the “Cat” position.  This increases the curvature of both her upper back and lower back—exactly the opposite of what most students need.

In the two photos below, the same student performs Cakravakasana.  In the position on the left, she uses her abdominal muscles to support her low back while drawing her shoulder blades together to flatten her upper back.  In the position on the right, she gently pulls in her belly while folding her hips toward her heels, gently stretching her low back.

For most students, the two positions of Cakravakasana effectively work together to restore balance to the spine and release back tension. Cat-Cow, on the other hand, may contribute to spinal imbalance and even increase back pain–even if it feels good while you’re doing it.

Cakravakasana Instructions:

  1. Come to hands and knees, placing your hips directly above your knees and your hands slightly in front of your shoulders.  Your knees should be at least four inches apart, and your hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders.
  2. On inhale, draw your shoulder blades together and lengthen your spine, keeping your belly lightly pulled in and your chin tucked slightly down.  Do not allow your lower back to arch or your hips to move beyond your knees.
  3. On exhale, contract your abdomen while moving your hips toward your heels and your forehead and elbows toward the floor. Notice the gentle stretch in your lower back.
  4. On the following inhale, return to the hands and knees position in step 1.
  5. Repeat 6 – 8 times.

Cakravakasana is a gentle pose you can use to release tension and stretch your back any time of the day.  I hope you enjoy it!


Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 


5 thoughts on “Cakravakasana: the “Un” Cat-Cow

  1. Ismena

    Thank you for this article. Actually I was doing cat-cow position and I was experiencing a lower back pain after. I am 6 months pregnant and I wanted to do some exercises which can release the back pain. From now on I will try only Cakravakasana.

    1. Whole Life Yoga Post author

      I’m glad you liked the article! I also got a lot of low back pain from cat-cow. I wish teachers would stop teaching it….

  2. Krista

    Thank you so much. My chiropractor suggested cat-cow but my back pain got significantly worse than when it started. I switched to this one and the pain is almost gone altogether!

  3. Nina

    Thank you for this great post! I just started teaching yoga, and wanted to understand this pose a little better. Great explanation of why to use this instead of cat/cow.


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