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Cat Pose

This pose provides a gentle massage to the spine and belly organs.


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You will encounter Marjaryasana (Cat Pose) and its counter pose Cow Pose (Bitilasana) in many yoga classes. And for good reason: These poses help warm up the spine. Cat Pose can serve as a prep for forward bends and an expansive counter pose to inversions and backbends.

While in this pose, focus on tucking your tailbone, rounding your spine and releasing your neck, says yoga teacher Nicola Jane Hobbs, author of Yoga Gym and Thrive Through Yoga. Completely surrendering to this pose—and breathing through it—will make your body feel at ease.

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Sanskrit

Marjaryasana (Mar-jar-YA-SUN-ah)

Marjari = cat

asana = pose

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Cat Pose basics

Pose Type: Backbend

Targets: Core

Benefits: Cat Pose warms up your spine, shoulders, and hips. It improves body awareness and posture, and counteracts the effects of sitting.

Other Cat Pose perks

  • Because you move with your breath when flowing from Cat Pose to Cow, this posture is relaxing and can help you manage stress by activating your relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and deactivating your stress response (sympathetic nervous system).
  • Cat Pose can help you wind down for bed and improve sleep.
  • Strengthens and stretches your back muscles, abdominals, shoulders, wrists, and hips.
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How to

  1. Begin Tabletop with your hips directly over your knees. Your hands should be shoulder-distance apart and slightly ahead of your shoulders. The wrist creases should be parallel to the front of the mat.
  2. Press down firmly through your hands.
  3. Exhale and round your spine toward the ceiling. Drop the crown of your head and your tailbone. Draw your lower belly in and up.
  4. Push the floor away with your hands to broaden across your shoulder blades.
  5. Keep the hips over your knees and your arms straight to keep the movement in your spine.
  6. To release the pose, return to a neutral spine.
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Beginner tips

Let your head drop naturally by releasing the back of your neck; don’t force your chin to your chest. Keep your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears.

In addition to the variations below, Cat Pose provides a space for finding mindful movement, in which you allow your body to move freely in different directions. You can move side to side by squeezing the side waist list a fist to initiate the movement. You can also find rotation in the spine by shifting your weight into one hand and lifting the other one laterally by rotating your rib cage.

Breathing deeply in Cat Pose will massage your organs as you alternately compress and lengthen the intestines, bringing fresh blood to the epithelial cells, which are responsible for healthy gut function.

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Teacher tips

These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:

  • Initiate movement from your spine and hips, not your arms.
  • If this pose hurts your knees, place a blanket under them for padding.
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Cat Pose variations

Photo: Andrew Clark

Cat Pose with blocks

If you have pain in your wrists or hands, bring your forearms to blocks. If you don’t have blocks, you can bring your forearms to the floor.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Cat Pose in a chair

Sit on a chair with your feet under your knees at hip-width distance apart. If you are taller, you may need to sit on folded blankets. If you are shorter, you may need to put folded blankets or blocks under your feet, so that your knees are at a 90-degree angle and your thighs are parallel to the ground. Sit as tall as you can. Then exhale to round your spine while tucking your chin down toward your chest.

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Why we love this pose

This pose is one of my absolute favorites because it sets the stage for many of the postures we encounter later on in a practice,” says YJ contributor Jenny Clise. “In its simplest form, it flexes our spine, stretches down the back, and strengthens our core. Cat Pose also offers an often overlooked tool: shoulder protraction. This is a major theme in our practice. When stepping to the top of our mat from Table or Downward-Facing Dog, we must protract our shoulders to make room for our foot to step through. When approaching arm balances like Crow or Crane Pose, or the alluring Handstand Press, it is not just our core that is working. Our shoulders need to be protracting like crazy! Whenever I face a roadblock in my practice, I think about what postures exist within the one I am trying to achieve—and then I return there. I cannot tell you how many times I have returned to Cat Pose.”

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Preparatory and counter poses

Preparatory poses

Tabletop

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Sukhasana (Easy Pose)

Counter poses

Bitilasana (Cow Pose)

Sphinx Pose

Uttana Shisosana (Extended Puppy Pose)

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Put Cat Pose into practice