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The cow pose, also known as Bitilasana, is a simple yoga move used to improve flexibility in the back, shoulders and neck. This particular move is often performed at the beginning of a yoga session to prepare the body for more difficult moves. The cow pose is sometimes coupled with the cat pose, called Bidalasana. When this is the case, it is referred to as the cat-cow pose.
To begin the cow pose, the student kneels down on a floor mat with her knees bent and her bottom resting on the ankles and feet. The hands are placed out in front of the body at the width of the shoulders. Rolling forward to place her weight on her hands, the student can then position her knees directly under the hips with the weight of her body distributed evenly over her hands and knees. The toes should be curled so that the bottoms of the toes touch the floor and the heel of the foot is perpendicular with the floor. This position looks like a table, with the arms and thighs the table legs and the back the table top.
Inhaling deeply, the student raises her hips and chest upward as the abdomen is depressed toward the floor. The head is then lifted upward until the gaze of the eyes is just above parallel to the floor, positioning the head backward. To complete the pose, the student should exhale and relax back into the table top formation with her back parallel to the floor and her head released down. The entire pose should be repeated several times to improve flexibility and warm up the back.
To continue on into the cat pose, the student would now place the tops of the feet and toes on the floor. Next, the back is curled upward toward the ceiling while the shoulders and hips relax downward. The head is then dropped and the neck curved under so that the eyes are fixed on the belly button. Typically, the cat-cow pose is repeated several times.
Bitilasana should be performed in a slow, gentle, flowing fashion. The stretch should never be forced to the point of pain. Gradually, the student will see her flexibility in the neck and back improve so that there is a greater difference between the cow pose and the flat back position. In addition to improving flexibility, this pose manipulates the organs in the abdomen, enhancing digestion and waste removal, and releases stress in the neck, shoulders and back to help build good posture.