Cat Pose (Marjariasana)
Cat pose, known as marjariasana in Sanskrit, stretches the muscles in the back, shoulders, and neck for improved flexibility. This gentle, restorative pose is yoga’s mildest forward bend.
- Start on all fours, in tabletop position, on the mat. Plant your palms and knees shoulder and hip distance apart. Spread your fingers wide, with your middle fingers pointing straight forward.
- Point your toes and press the tops of your feet into the mat. Ensure that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor.
- Lean forward slightly, so that your shoulders are directly above your wrists. Externally rotate the arm by turning your elbow joints outwards so that your elbow creases face forwards.
- Flatten your back into a neutral position.
- Exhale. Scoop your tailbone towards your navel, gradually rounding your back. Keep your arms and thighs perpendicular to the ground (don’t bend your elbows).
- As you round your back, let your chin drop naturally towards your chest and gently expand your shoulders upwards.
- Inhale and return to a neutral back and tabletop position. Alternatively, transition immediately into cow pose (bitilasana).
Modifications and Props
Tucked Toes Modification. If pressing the tops of your feet into the mat puts strain on the muscles in your feet, tuck your toes instead of pointing them. Throughout the pose, press into the mat with your toes.
Cat pose stretches the back, shoulder, and neck muscles for longer, more supple muscles. Also, according to legendary yogi Swami Satyananda Sarasawti, cat pose is a safe and beneficial prenatal yoga pose.
Combining cat pose and its counter pose, cow pose (bitilasana), makes for a beneficial, dynamic flow. As you inhale out of cat pose, transition immediately into cow pose. Then, as you exhale out of cow pose, transition back into cat pose. Hold each pose for several seconds, switching between the two in rhythm with your breath.
Erector spinae. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles are closely linked with posture. The mild forward folding movement of cat pose stretches the erector spinae.
Trapezius muscle.The trapezius muscle extends from the back of the head down to the shoulder blade. It is partially responsible for the gross motor movements of the head and neck. Dropping the chin and expanding the shoulders upwards in cat pose stretches the trapezius muscle.
Deltoid.The deltoid muscle forms the rounded contour of the outer shoulder. It prevents dislocation of the arm during heavy lifting. To engage the deltoid in cat pose, externally rotate the arm by turning your elbow joints outwards so that your elbow creases face forwards.
Rotator cuff.The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surrounds each shoulder joint. It is responsible for stabilizing the shoulder. To engage the rotator cuff muscles in cat pose, externally rotate the arm by turning your elbow joints outwards so that your elbow creases face forwards.
Latissimus dorsi.The latissimus dorsi muscles in the mid-back rotate and extend the shoulder joint. Expanding the shoulders upwards in cat pose stretches the lats.
Interested in trying a different yoga movement? Check out the plow pose for beginners.