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Cat Pose

How to avoid falling into autopilot while practicing this basic—but beneficial—stretch.

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It’s rare to encounter Cat Pose, or Marjaryasana, in a yoga class without also being cued into its counter pose Cow Pose, Bitilasana. Together, these poses articulate the spine and start to warm your body before you ask your body to do anything else.

It’s such a common pose that it can be easy to fall into autopilot and practice it mindlessly or to rush through it on your way to what follows. Slow down. Let yourself experience it. 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.

Take a moment (or more) to find stillness in your body and your breath. Perhaps you ignore the teachers’ cue and simply stay here for several breaths. Completely surrender to the stretch. That stillness, awareness, and breath can set the stage for the rest of your practice.

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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 stretches your wrists, shoulders, and spine and prepares you for further movement. The slow rhythm you create when you move between Cat Pose and Cow Pose synchronizing your breath and body incites the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and deactivates your stress response (sympathetic nervous system). When practiced with mindfulness, the pose also enhances body awareness.


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How to do Cat Pose

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  1. Begin in Tabletop with your hips directly over your knees. Your hands should be shoulder-distance apart and slightly ahead of your shoulders.
  2. Bring your wrist creases parallel to the front of the mat. Spread your fingers wide and press down firmly through your knuckles.
  3. Exhale and round your spine toward the ceiling as you release your head and your tailbone toward the mat. Draw your lower belly in and up.
  4. Push the floor away with your hands to help broaden across your shoulder blades.
  5. To release the pose, return to a neutral spine in Tabletop.
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Beginner Tips

  • Relax your neck rather than holding it tense so your head releases toward the mat.
  • Keep your shoulders away from your ears.

Common Misalignments

  • Keep your arms straight rather than allowing them to bend and splay out to the sides. This isolates the stretch in your spine.
  • There’s no need to force your chin toward your chest.
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Teaching Cat Pose

  • Remind students that they can slide a folded blanket beneath their knees for cushioning.
  • Suggest shifting the body in different directions, whether side to side (stretches the obliques) or forward and back (stretches the wrists and forearms).
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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, try firm pillows or a small stacks of books.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Cat Pose in a Chair

Sit on a chair with your feet under your knees, hip-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.) Inhale and sit as tall as you can. Exhale and round your spine while releasing your chin 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 our back, and strengthens our core. Cat Pose also offers an often overlooked tool: shoulder protraction. When stepping to the top of our mat from Table or Downward-Facing Dog, we must protract our shoulders—draw the shoulder blades away from one another to broaden across your back—and make room for our foot to step through. When approaching arm balances like Crow or Crane Pose or Handstand, 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

Cat Pose can be used as a counterpose to backbends but be careful to only take your body into it after you first stay for several breaths in a neutral spine position, such as Child’s Pose.

Preparatory Poses


Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Sukhasana (Easy Pose)

Counter Poses

Bitilasana (Cow Pose)

Uttana Shisosana (Extended Puppy Pose)

Sphinx Pose

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Cat Pose in Practice

About Our Contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit