(Marjaryasana): Techniques, Benefits, Variations

Level – Beginner

Cat Pose

(Marjaryasana)

Cat Pose Prep & Practice

1

Come to a tabletop position, taking the shoulders directly over the wrists and hips over the knees. Hands come shoulder width apart. Take the knees hips distance.

2

Spread the fingers wide. Press down evenly through the palms, fingers, and wrists. Uncurl the toes, resting the tops of feet down on to the floor.

3

On an exhalation, draw the chin in. Lengthen the back of the neck and pull the abs up toward the ceiling as you round the back. Push the floor away from you.

4

Upper arms externally rotate as you protract the shoulders. Tuck the tailbone in.

5

To come out of this posture use an inhalation to slowly lower the torso back to a neutral tabletop position. Bring the head back in line with the spine.

Variations/Modifications

  • Place a folded blanket under the knees
  • Practice on forearms
  • Practice in a seated position

Physical, Mental and Emotional Benefits

  • Strengthens the wrists, arms, and shoulders
  • Tones the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor
  • Relieves tension in the upper back muscles 
  • Increases flexibility in the spine

Contraindications

  • Weak wrists 
  • Shoulder Injury
  • Knee Injury 
  • Sore Neck, keep neck in line with the spine

A Few Notes

Cat cow pose is one of the most popular warm-ups in every yoga class, especially in active classes like Vinyasa. Mimicking a cat stretch, this asana warms your core muscles, abdominal organs, lower back, spine, and shoulder blades for your yoga practice. Even if you are not preparing your body for asana, the cat stretch is a powerful way to keep your spine and neck flexible. I especially recommend it to people who work on computers all day, which can cause a lot of pain in the shoulder blades. When paired with cow stretch, this posture becomes a healing dynamic exercise.

For practitioners who are looking for a deep stretch in the back muscles, you can progressively increase the range of movement in this posture. For instance, if you begin in table pose with a neutral spine, then you can slowly increase your cow stretch and cat stretch with each breath. From there, you can begin to move your spine in a circular motion all while moving between cat stretch and cow stretch, like a jump rope. Make big circles with your spine, tucking your tailbone deeply which in the cat posture. After a few rounds, you can switch directions.

This posture is truly delicious and all of the variations that come with it make it an especially fun warm-up on your yoga mat.

What are the benefits of cat cow pose?

Cat cow pose is a great spinal stretch, but is beneficial to a lot more of the body as well. It opens the chest and belly muscles by stretching in a way that is opposite to our natural stature. It opens the hip area by moving all of the connective tissue around your hips. It stretches the hand, wrist, and forearm areas, as well, which is especially helpful to people who work on computers all day. Some say that it also supports the adrenal glands, though this is a less studied benefit.

Do you inhale on cat or cow?

Inhale in cow pose as you move your belly toward the floor and lift your head up. Fill your chest with air as you pull your shoulder blades toward each other and down toward your tailbone. Then exhale as you curve your spine and tailbone toward the floor, tucking your chin toward your chest. Use the compression of your body to help push the air out of your lungs. Repeat this at your own pace.

Is Cat Cow bad for your back?

While cat cow can feel absolutely incredible for most people, it is not always good for those with a spine or neck injury. If you’re ever uncertain, you can always ask your yoga teacher. As a general rule of thumb, no posture should cause pain.

Want more yoga pose tutorials? See more in my Yoga Pose Directory.

Variations/Modifications

  • Prop up sits bones if they don’t come to the floor
  • Use blanket to support front thigh (from hip to knee)
  • Use a block under the forehead
  • Use a bolster to support the torso and head
  • Reclined Pigeon (Ankle to Knee Pose)

Physical, Mental and Emotional Benefits

  • Relieves stagnation from hip joints
  • Quiets the mind and brings focus inward
  • Stretches piriformis, inner thigh and hip
  • Stimulates abdominal organs

Contraindications

  • Knee or Hip Injuries or Hip Replacements
  • Hamstring Injury
  • Sacroiliac Injury
  • Tight Hips (see modifications)

Thoughtful Sequencing

Child’s Pose (Balasana), Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), One Legged Downward Facing Dog (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana), Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana) staying here for 3-5 breaths. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) to Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). Repeat other side, rest in Child’s Pose (Balasana).

You might also like: 5 Tips For Building Creative (And Safe) Yoga Sequences

Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
Level – Intermediate

Pigeon Pose Prep & Practice

  1. Beginning on hands and knees or Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). On an exhalation, Bring the right knee forward and right, toward the right edge of your mat behind the right wrist, angling right shin so that the right foot rest in front of the left knee.
  2. Right leg rotates externally from hip, outside of right shin and foot rest on mat. Foot relaxes in neutral or flexes (whichever feels better on the knee). Mindfully lengthen and extend the left leg toward back of mat so that front of thigh, knee and shin rest onto the mat (neutral or slight internal rotation).
  3. Torso is upright, gaze forward. On an inhalation, lengthen through the front, back and side bodies, exhale rooting down through front leg and right sits bones, outside of right buttock comes to rest on the mat. Gaze back at left leg to see if leg and foot are extending directly from the hip and not swiveled or sickled to the left. Hips yearn toward square.
  4. Inhale and lengthen torso finding even length on both sides, as you exhale release the upper body toward the floor, bending the arms allowing elbows to be wide and hands to rest one on top of the other. Forehead comes to rest on the mat or on the back of the hands.
  5. Breathe into the back body, releasing through the hips and pelvis. Spend some time here, using the breath to create space.
  6. To come out of the pose, lengthen the arms, spread the fingers and press down through the knuckles. On an inhalation press down through hands to lift the torso and mindfully come back to hands and knees or downward dog to prepare for the other side.

Variations/Modifications

  • Prop up sits bones if they don’t come to the floor
  • Use blanket to support front thigh (from hip to knee)
  • Use a block under the forehead
  • Use a bolster to support the torso and head
  • Reclined Pigeon (Ankle to Knee Pose)

Physical, Mental and Emotional Benefits

  • Relieves stagnation from hip joints
  • Quiets the mind and brings focus inward
  • Stretches piriformis, inner thigh and hip
  • Stimulates abdominal organs

Contraindications

  • Knee or Hip Injuries or Hip Replacements
  • Hamstring Injury
  • Sacroiliac Injury
  • Tight Hips (see modifications)

Thoughtful Sequencing

Child’s Pose (Balasana), Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), One Legged Downward Facing Dog (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana), Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana) staying here for 3-5 breaths. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) to Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). Repeat other side, rest in Child’s Pose (Balasana).

You might also like: 5 Tips For Building Creative (And Safe) Yoga Sequences

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