Often referred to by experts as marjaryasana, the cat is a standard yoga pose used both in introducing yoga beginners to the concept of deep breathing, as well as a means of warming up the core for more advanced yogis. The posture is often used in conjunction with the cow, a pose also aimed at encouraging deep breathing while stretching out the back and abdominals. Typically, yoga instructors will have students practice the cat posture near the beginning of class, although it is gentle enough to offer students a break from more difficult successions of poses.
The Cat Pose: How It's Done
The cat pose takes place entirely on hands and knees, with your back in a tabletop position to start. Correct placement is key to deriving all the benefits of the cat, which is why it is important to keep the wrists directly beneath the shoulders and the knees directly beneath the hips for the duration of the exercise. Begin by taking a deep breath in while maintaining the initial position. As you exhale, round your spine, gently releasing your head towards your chest. You should look, as the posture's name suggests, like a cat stretching his or her back after a long nap. As you inhale, return your back to the initial tabletop position. As mentioned earlier, you may alternate this pose with the cow, which involves sinking your spine in the opposite direction while still on hands and knees.
Benefits of the Cat Posture
The primary benefit of the cat pose is that it relaxes and loosens your spine without adding the pressure of other yoga moves targeted at the back. The gentle nature of this pose makes it ideal for beginners, as well as participants who may be limited by injury or physical disability. Additionally, the cat posture promotes focus on deep breathing, a concept that, while encouraged in every yoga move, is often lost as exercises become more complicated. By practicing the cat, you can transition from the relatively easy practice of deep breathing in a lying or seated position to the far more difficult prospect of engaging in proper breathing while completing advanced poses.
The cat posture serves as an excellent introduction to spinal alignment and deep breathing for the yoga novice, while also providing advanced yogis the opportunity to return to the basics. As such, it's a great pose to incorporate into any yoga routine!