Cat Pose — Marjaryasana (mahr-jahr-ee-AHS-uh-nuh) — is often paired with Cow Pose — Bitilasana (bee-tee-LAHS-uh-nuh) — for a gentle warm-up sequence. When practiced together, the poses help to stretch the body and prepare it for other activity.
Benefits of Cat-Cow
Cat Cow is a gentle flow between two poses that warms the body and brings flexibility to the spine. It stretches the back torso and neck, and softly stimulates and strengthens the abdominal organs. It also open the chest, encouraging the breath to become slow and deep. The spinal movement of the two poses stimulates the kidneys and adrenal glands. Coordinating this movement with your breathing relieves stress and calms the mind.
This sequence also helps to develop postural awareness and balance throughout the body. It brings the spine into correct alignment and can help prevent back pain when practiced regularly.
Practicing asanas began to teach me about myself. The body is such a great school of learning. It makes you pay attention.
Those with neck injuries should keep the head in line with the torso, not dropping it forward or back. Pregnant women and those with back injuries should only perform Cow Pose, bringing the spine back to neutral between poses — do not let the belly drop between repetitions, as this can strain the lower back. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips to the top of your mat. Place your shins and knees hip-width apart. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward.
- Begin by moving into Cow Pose: Inhale as you drop your belly towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling.
- Broaden across your shoulder blades and draw your shoulders away from your ears.
- Next, move into Cat Pose: As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. The pose should look like a cat stretching its back.
- Release the crown of your head toward the floor, but don't force your chin to your chest.
- Inhale, coming back into Cow Pose, and then exhale as you return to Cat Pose.
- Repeat 5-20 times, and then rest by sitting back on your heels with your torso upright.
Modifications & Variations
Cat-Cow is a great pose for beginners — there should be no pain and very little discomfort (if any) when performed. If you need to modify the pose to make it more comfortable, try these simple changes to find a variation that works best for you:
- If your wrists hurt, place your forearms on the floor.
- Place your forearms on a bolster or stack of firm blankets to lift your torso more upright. This variation is especially useful for women who are pregnant.
- If your knee caps hurt, fold your mat or place a firm blanket under your knees.
- You can practice this pose throughout your day and while traveling. Sit in a chair (or airplane/bus seat) with your feet flat on the floor. Press your hands against a table, desk, or wall in front of you and perform the same spinal movements as in the regular pose.
Practicing Cat-Cow can warm the body and prepare it for many activities. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this sequence:
- In Cat, let your head drop, releasing the back of your neck. Do not force your chin to your chest.
- Also in Cat, you can increase the abdominal massage and strengthening effects by drawing your belly button firmly in toward your spine.
- In Cow, let the movement start from the tailbone. Allow your neck and head to be the very last part of the movement.
- Keep your shoulder blades broad and draw your shoulders away from your ears. This helps to protect your neck during the movements.
- Be aware of your breath and its coordination with your movements. Imagine your breath traveling up and down your spine as you inhale and exhale, like an ocean wave flowing onto the beach and retreating.
Bringing movement and flexibility to your spine helps your body to become more coordinated. Try a few slow rounds of Cat-Cow when you wake in the morning, or after sitting for a long period. You may notice yourself walking taller throughout the day!