Cat pose in yoga is an all levels pose most often practiced in Hatha, Vinyasa and therapedic styles of yoga. It is from the Core family of postures as it primarily works to open the back body in flexion (forward bending). Cat Pose translates in sanskrit to Marjariasana Marjari = Cat and Asana = Pose.
It’s almost always paired in a sequence with Bitilasana – Cow Pose which takes the spine into extension (backbending). This is the perfect elixir for keeping the spinal muscles and joints supple and mobile.
This article will cover step- by- step pose instruction, alignment principles, how this shape can maximize the opening of the upper back and enhance sensation where it’s most often dormant.
For beginners and senior students, please keep a chair handy. Included is a little tip for teachers too! In Cat Pose we will focus on using specific language and metaphors to add depth and texture to your cuing.
Lastly, I’ll share my favorite assist that is super effective and helps bring the shape alive for your students.
It’s prescribed by yoga therapist for relieving sciatica, back pain and helps with overall feeling of being comfortable in your skin.
Many sciences including Yoga believe that the health of the spine is a great indicator of overall health. Since the spine is the home of the Nervous System and the Nervous System governs all other systems, this makes great sense.
The spinal column is also where some 72,000 Nadis or pathways commune making up all the 7 main energy centers, vortexes, or chakras. It’s no wonder this simple pose feels so good!
Please refrain from Cat Pose if you are working with a wrist, shoulder, neck or spinal injury.
Make sure your shoulders are still directly over your wrists and push into the earth so your upper back lifts towards the sky and exits the body.
Now push-push-push into the earth to enhance the stretch, feel your shoulder blades lift and spread east to west, your chin tucks and your low belly coils in and up. Essentially your spine looks like a rainbow or… an angry cat.
Modifications- Perform Cat Pose in a chair or with your hands on your knees. This lessens gravity’s influence and is a great choice if you are working with a wrist, elbow or shoulder injury.
Variations- A little more spice? How about adding Uddiyana Bandha (low belly in and up) at the bottom of your exhales. You can also practice a variation where you lift your knees 2 inches (no more as it lessens the intensity) of the ground at the very bottom of your exhales, this adds tremendous abdominal strengthening.
Common Misalignment- Shoulders tend to drift back towards the heels which still feels really good but takes the stretch out of the upper back where we need it most. Consider that the Thoracic (mid-upper back) spine has the least amount of mobility when forward folding, back bending and twisting compared to the rest of the spine. So Cat Pose represents a huge opportunity to address this dormant area and bring new life!
Fix It- Draw the shoulders forward over the wrists and actually feel how that subtle adjustment shifts the stretch into the upper back spine (thoracic). Your shoulder blades lift into the back body and spread east to west. You want to feel the impact of your efforts by pushing the floor actively away from you.
For Teachers- On Language… It’s a paradox as its our main tool as educators but words don’t actually teach, experience teaches. However words can articulate actions, point to experiences and help bring the pose to life… We can use metaphors, action words and silence to point at an experience we want our students to have. Play with language and see how many ways you can teach the same thing – differently.
Keep your eyes open and don’t let students get away with drawing their shoulders back behind the wrists. Keep the bar high and let them know WHY they are doing what they are doing so they feel educated and empowered rather than controlled and restricted.
Adjustment- Place your hand on their upper back- between their shoulder blades and ask them to push up into your hand. Very simple and highly effective. Give it a try and let me know your experience!
Cat Pose is a MUST in my daily morning practice. It’s a medicinal Pose that awakens the spinal muscles, brings suppleness and mobility to the joints and just feels GOOD! It stretches the back body, shoulders and neck and is prescribed for relieving sciatic and back pain. When paired with Cow pose it improves overall posture.
Consider that every single bone in your spine is a slight idderation of the one above it and the one below, it’s like a puzzle. Some areas of the spine forward bend easier by design, some Back Bend easier by design and some areas rotate much easier, simply by design. Many of us simply bend where we are already bendy and move in a two dimensional way.
Now, play with initiating movement from the center of gravity (your pelvis) and letting each bone influence the one above it in time so your neck spine rounds last. This is super therapeutic and yields great benefit when practiced regularly. Your learning to segment out the movement so you feel you can access and intentionally move any specific area on purpose.
In yoga Cat Pose targets the area that is most dormant when forward bending, back bending and rotating. Think on this, you’ve never even seen this area of the upper back and certainly can’t get any sunblock there! Cat Pose is one of very few asanas that actually awaken this area behind the back of the heart and is worth investigating.
Instead of viewing this Cat Pose a gateway to other more stimulating poses take it on as its own thing. Study it, see what it can teach you about your body.
Child’s Pose is a great preparatory pose as it ground you prior to movement. You can counter pose with Eagle or Downward Facing Dog which continues to build energy.
Lastly, follow up with Eagle Pose and see if you have any newfound articulation in the upper back. Please share your wins and challenges below!