What is the Cat-cow pose?
The cat-cow pose, known as Marjariasana, is often practiced as part of a warm-up. It is a wonderful stretch that relaxes the back, releases stiffness, stretches the muscles and prepares the back for intense backbends. Simple to do, Marjariasana involves moving the spine from an arched position (extension) to a rounded position (flexion). The movements are done in coordination with the breath, inhaling upon arching the back and exhaling upon rounding the back. The cat-cow stretch is very stress-relieving too. This beginner-level posture is easy to do and very relaxing to practice even at the end of a long day at work. The cat-cow yoga pose is also a therapeutic exercise to relieve or prevent back pain.
Position type: Seated
Posture type: Kneeling
Ideal for: Back and neck flexibility
Targets: Back, abdomen, neck, arms and legs
Pose level: Beginner
How to prepare for the Cat-cow pose
Since the cat-cow pose is itself a great preparatory yoga asana for challenging backbends, like the wheel pose and even forward bends there are no major preparatory poses for this. However, before doing Marjariasana, you can practice a few basic back stretches like twists, stretching the back by raising and stretching the hands up and making a forward and backward back movement from a seated position.
When you practice Marjariasana the neck also moves along with the back. So before the posture, do a few neck rotations such as clockwise and anticlockwise movements, moving the neck up and down and from side to side.
Arm, shoulder and leg exercises
During your warm-ups add a few arm, shoulder and leg exercises such as arm rotations, shoulder rotations, leg kicks from the knee and the hips, etc. This releases any tightness and helps you be comfortable when doing Marjariasana.
How to do Cat-cow pose
How to get into the posture
- Come into a neutral position on your hands and knees. Your wrists should be placed underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
- The neutral position is defined by your spine which is like a straight line connecting the shoulders to the hips.
- The neck should be long. Look down and outwards.
- Now inhale and arch your back to come into the cow pose. When you do this, you will gently raise your head and neck upwards too. Tilt your pelvis back so that your tailbone sticks up. Do the movement slowly from your tailbone up your spine such that your neck is the last to move.
- Keep your abdominal muscles engaged. Allow them to hug your spine by pulling your navel in.
- Now exhale and round the back coming into the cat pose. Now you will tilt your pelvis forward and tuck your tailbone in. As you let this movement move up your spine, the round will happen naturally.
- Keep your navel pulled in toward your spine. Drop your head and look down, keeping your neck long.
- Repeat the cat-cow movement 6-7 times, coordinating with your breath to completely stretch and relax the back.
Getting out of the posture
- Once you finish a few rounds, gently come back to the neutral spine position. Relax here or go into the child’s pose for a few minutes.
What are the Benefits of Practicing the Cat-cow Pose?
The cat-cow movement is extremely therapeutic for the back. It improves blood circulation in the spine, including all the discs, nerves and nerve endings. It eases pain, releases stress and tightness from the back and stretches and strengthens the muscles and tissues of the back and neck. It is especially helpful for those who sit at a desk for long hours. It gives a gentle massage to the spine, increasing mobility. The posture also strengthens the muscles of the hands and wrists. Marjariasana also improves posture and balance. It calms and balances the nervous system because of how the movements are linked to the breath.
What are the contraindications of the Cat-cow Pose?
Avoid doing the cat-cow pose if you have a wrist, arm, shoulder or knee injury. In case of neck pain keep the neck in a neutral position. If you have intense back pain, avoid the posture or practice only under the guidance of a certified yoga teacher. Once the pain is a little less, you can resume the practice.
Counter poses of the Cat-cow Pose
The cat and cow movement itself are counter poses to each other. Since this is a relaxing asana, there are no specific counter poses. You can, however, come into the child’s pose for a few minutes to bring your back into balance.
Cat-cow pose variations
- If the actual pose hurts your wrists you can make fists and place them below your shoulders. You can also place blocks underneath your hands for added support.
- In the case of knee discomfort or pain, place a cushion or blanket underneath your knees.
- You can also practice the cat-cow pose by sitting on a chair. The movements are the same with the only difference being your feet are flat on the mat and buttocks on a chair.
- Deepen your posture by drawing the navel in as much as possible and arching the back deeply. This will prepare you for backbends effectively.
Advice for beginners
- Since this is a great pose for beginners, it can easily be practiced by all. Keep in mind that the arms should remain straight so the movement is from the spine and not the arms or elbows.
- Avoid straining the neck. When lifting your gaze to the ceiling, don’t overextend your neck. When getting into the cat pose (rounding your back), let your head drop naturally and don’t force it.
Practice tips for the Cat-cow pose
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and not drawn up towards your ears.
- Coordinate your movements with the breath and practice slowly and gently. The pose is meant to be pain free. If you experience pain, immediately relax and try again.
- If required, ask a friend to help you activate the back by placing their hands on the back. Once you get a hang of how the movement is, it will come to you naturally.
Shvasa tips for Cat-cow pose
- Practice slowly and gently. This is meant to be a relaxing asana so do not be in a hurry. Take your time and take deep breaths.
- This is one of the best yoga poses to do at the end of a long day or to relieve stress and strain from the body.