Yoga’s Easiest Backbend Is Also One of the Easiest To Mess Up—Here Are 3 Mistakes a Physical Therapist Wants You To Avoid

When we think about improving our flexibility, our goals are often along the lines of being able to do the splits, or learning J-Lo's Super Bowl choreography. But while it (definitely) doesn't sound as sexy, developing a strong, flexible spine is also important. And one of the best exercises for doing it is the cat-cow.

Your spine is made up of 33 stacked vertebrae, which are divided into segments: cervical (neck), thoracic (middle back), lumbar (lower back), sacrum, and coccyx (tailbone). When done correctly, cat-cow works full spinal mobility that articulates through each vertebra—which is important for most of us, as not many people can move their spine vertebrae by vertebrae. Instead, the majority of people move their spines in "chunks," meaning they aren't particularly flexible. "Cat-cow is a wonderful exercise for mobility and stability, says Laurence Agenor, DPT, a Pilates and barre instructor. "But I see it done the wrong way a lot of the time."

Experts In This Article

In this episode of The Right Way, she shares the common mistakes people make when attempting this exercise—which is often touted as "yoga's easiest backbend"—and then demos how to do cat-cow correctly. Keep scrolling for the top three things to avoid for the sake of using the move to achieve a more flexible spine.

The most common mistakes when doing cat-cow

1. Your shoulders are hunched

When getting down into tabletop position (which is where your cat-cow movements will start from), it can be tempting to hunch your shoulders up toward your ears. But this, says Dr. Agenor , is a major no-no. "That doesn't allow for full-body mobility," she explains. "You're getting stuck in that thoracic spine and that cervical spine, which prevents you from getting the full benefits of that cat-cow."

2. You're just thrashing your body around

While the exercise might seem easy, it's important to be intentional with the way you move. You really focus on moving slowly through each vertebra instead of just... thrashing around all over the place.  This, says Dr. Agenor, will allow you to really use the pose to build that much-needed mobility and stability throughout your spine.

3. You're only moving from your low back

Again, the name of the game here is full spinal mobility—For which you must use your full spine. "I often see people initiating the move only from their low back or their lumbar spine," says Dr. Agenor. "And if you're focusing only on the low back, you're not getting the full benefits of mobilizing and articulating through the entire spine."

Ready to see how to do cat-cow the right way? Watch the video to see Dr. Agenor's tips in action.

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