Cat Pose (Bidalasana): Steps, Benefits, and Contraindications

Cat Pose (Bidalasana): Steps, Benefits, and Contraindications – SharpMuscle
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Cat Pose, also known as Bidalasana or Marjaryasana, strengthens core, shoulders, and spine, while stretching spine, tailbone, traps, lower back, and shoulders.

Information

Known as:Cat Pose, Bidalasana, Marjariasana (Marjaryasana), Billiasana, Viralasana
Sanskrit name:बिडालासन;
मार्जरीआसन
IAST:Biḍālāsana;
Mārjārīāsana
Pronunciation:Bee-dah-LAA-suh-nuh;
MAA-rjaar-ee-AA-suh-nuh
Type:Forward-Bend, Dynamic Stretch
Level:Beginner
Focus:Spine, abdominal muscles
Drishti:Downward
Chakra:Root Chakra (Muladhara), Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana)
Indications:Menstrual discomfort, abdominal, digestion, internal organ, lower back, wrists, back pain, stress, relaxation, align the energy centers (chakras)
Counterposes:Cow Pose (Bitilasana), Child’s Pose (Balasana), Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
Preparatory poses:Tabletop Pose (Hands and Knees), Child’s Pose (Balasana), Cat-Cow Flow, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana), Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Thread the Needle Pose, Sukhasana (Easy Pose) with Side Stretches, Supine Spinal Twist
Follow-up poses:Cow Pose (Bitilasana), Child’s Pose (Balasana), Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Thread the Needle Pose, Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Extended Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
Contraindications:Injury of the shoulders, wrists, neck, hip, knee and the back, High blood pressure or low blood Pressure, Migraine, Spondylitis, Arthritis of the knee and wrists

Meaning

The term “Bidalasana” derives from Sanskrit, which is made of two words – Bidal + Asana:

  1. Bidal” = “cat”
  2. Asana” = “pose” or “posture” or “seat”

Similarly, the alternate name “Marjariasana” (also spelled “Marjaryasana”) also derives from Sanskrit, which is made of two words – Marjari + Asana:

  1. Marjari” = “cat”
  2. Asana” = “pose” or “posture” or “seat”

This name choice symbolizes the feline-like qualities inherent in the pose’s movements.

The pose also has historical ties. A comparable posture was documented in Niels Bukh’s early 20th-century Danish text on Primary Gymnastics, referred to as the “prone-kneeling position.” This concept itself stemmed from a 19th-century Scandinavian gymnastic tradition.

Another distinct asana, “Marjarottanasana,” meaning “upside-down cat stretch pose,” is illustrated in the 19th-century work “Sritattvanidhi.”

Additionally, the pose “Vyaghrasana,” known as the tiger pose, is mentioned without an accompanying description in the 17th-century text “Hatha Ratnavali.”

What are the benefits of Cat Pose or Marjariasana (Marjaryasana)?

Physical Benefits:

  • Spinal Flexibility: Cat Pose involves rounding the spine, which helps to gently stretch and flex the entire length of the spine. This helps to improve the spinal mobility and can counteract stiffness or tension.
  • Core Engagement: The abdominal muscles are engaged during the pose, contributing to improved core strength and stability.
  • Stress Relief in the Back: By rounding the spine, the pose helps to release tension in the muscles along the back, particularly in the mid and upper back regions.
  • Shoulder and Wrist Flexibility: Weight-bearing on the hands in this pose helps to stretch and strengthen the wrists, while the position of the shoulders contributes to shoulder flexibility.
  • Stimulation of Digestion: The compression of the abdominal area during the rounding of the spine can stimulate digestion and massage the internal organs.
  • Relief for Menstrual Discomfort: It can provide relief from menstrual discomfort by gently stretching the abdominal area and lower back.

Mental and Emotional Benefits:

  • Mindfulness: The coordinated movement with breath in Cat Pose encourages mindfulness. Focusing on the breath and the sensations in the body helps to bring your attention to the present moment.
  • Stress Reduction: The rhythmic breathing and the flow of the Cat-Cow sequence can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. The technique of concentrating on your movements and breathing can help in calming your mind.
  • Grounding: The hands-and-knees position in this pose provides a sense of stability and grounding. This can help to create a feeling of safety and connectedness.
  • Mind-Body Connection: As you move through the pose mindfully, you develop a stronger connection between your body and mind. This increased awareness can extend beyond your yoga practice and into your daily life.
  • Energetic Alignment: The asana helps to balance and align the energy centers (chakras) along the spine, contributing to an overall sense of well-being.
  • Emotional Release: The gentle rocking motion of the Cat-Cow sequence can promote the release of emotional tension that might be stored in the body.

Cat Pose (Bidalasana) Practice Guide

The Cat Pose emphasizes initiating movement from your core and aligning your movements with your breath, which are fundamental principles in the practice of yoga postures.

The central point of movement initiation is your core, and the coordination of this with your breath constitutes key aspects of yoga practice.

The alignment of your core is closely tied to the orientation of your pelvis. Therefore, consider the positioning of your hips as the pivotal point for each posture. This holds significance because your spine serves as the primary conduit for energy flow in every posture, and how your spine extends from your core is determined by the direction in which your pelvis is inclined. Should your sacrum be inclined forward (resembling a dog’s tilt), your spine will extend forward prior to its upward movement, accentuating the curve in your lower back. Conversely, if your sacrum tilts backward (akin to a cat’s tilt), your spine will arch backward, rounding your lower back.

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Each yoga pose involves adjusting your pelvis into a state of “cat tilt,” “dog tilt,” or “neutral”—or transitioning between these positions. In the majority of poses, only one of these options is suitable.

Step-by-step Instructions

  1. Commence by positioning yourself on your hands and knees. Place your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips. Ensure your fingers are fully splayed, with your middle fingers aligned straight ahead. Maintain a level and even back, parallel to the ground. Your gaze should be directed towards the floor. This position is referred to as your “neutral” stance. When your pelvis is in neutral alignment, your spine will be elongated fully, with both the anterior and posterior sides equally extended.
  2. Cultivate a continuous and fluid breath pattern, and await the internal signal to initiate movement. Consciously generate the sonorous ujjayi breath in the throat, and bear in mind that the breath serves as the vitality of the pose and the impetus for motion.
  3. While awaiting the inner cue, avoid slumping into your shoulders. Instead, establish a channel of energy through each arm by pressing downwards into your palms while simultaneously elevating your shoulders. Practice this back-and-forth movement several times to ensure comprehension. During exhalation, permit your shoulders to slump as part of the incorrect action; during inhalation, lengthen your arms and raise your shoulders as part of the correct action.

Cat tilt:

  1. When you’re prepared to initiate, take a deep inhalation. Upon exhalation, initiate a “cat tilt” by gently drawing the abdominal muscles inward towards the spine, while simultaneously tucking the tailbone (coccyx) downward and underneath you. Additionally, softly engage the buttocks muscles. To maintain elevation out of your shoulders, exert firm downward pressure with your hands, and simultaneously lift the center of your back toward the ceiling, creating a gentle arch in your spine. Consciously round your head inward and direct your gaze towards the floor, positioned between your knees.
  2. Given that this is a “closing” movement involving a reduction in lung capacity, perform this motion as you exhale. The arrangement of your hips (with coccyx tucked and sacrum tilting backward) is referred to as “cat tilt.” Stay in this position for several breath cycles.

Dog tilt:

  1. Inhale deeply and transition into a “dog tilt” (refer to photo 4). To achieve this, release the tension in your buttocks, reverse the tilt of your pelvis, and create a gentle arch in your spine, curving it into a supple backbend. Your pubic bone will shift backward between your legs, your sitting bones will lift upwards, and the angle of your sacrum will adjust. While executing this, ensure your navel maintains a backward connection to your spine. Simultaneously, exert downward pressure on your hands for arm extension and elevation from the shoulders. Lift your chest away from your waist, raise your head, draw your shoulder blades down your back, and choose to fix your gaze either at a point on the floor in front of you or upward towards the ceiling. Alternatively, you can shut your eyes and absorb the sensations of the posture.
  2. Experience the continuous flow of the curve. Enhance the curvature by tilting your pelvis further and guiding your spine to a deeper arch, gradually extending the curve along your back. Maintain the integrity of your shoulders, avoiding any sagging. Create an arc that spans the entirety of your spine, achieving its maximal extent.
  3. As this involves an “opening” action, characterized by increased lung capacity and expanded chest space, perform this motion while inhaling. This pelvic positioning (with spread buttocks and a forward-tilting sacrum) is referred to as “dog tilt.” Remain in this position for several breath cycles.
  4. The technique of this backward-bending movement carries significance in many postures, warranting precise understanding. The aim is to maintain even curvature as you approach the maximum extension, avoiding excessive arching in the lumbar region (lower back). This is achieved by persistently drawing your navel and abdominal muscles towards the spine while simultaneously tilting the pelvis forward and arching the spine. Channel the peak of the arch towards your upper back and chest—behind your heart—allowing your shoulder blades to slide downwards as your chest expands and your gaze lifts.
  5. Repeat this motion ten times. During exhalation, execute the cat tilt by turning your hips and pressing the center of your back towards the ceiling. On inhalation, transition into dog tilt and arch your spine. Execute these movements slowly, synchronizing them with your breath. Adjust the pace of each movement to match your breathing rhythm. Inhale leisurely and smoothly, allowing your movement to mirror this unhurried and fluid pattern. Initiate your inhalation just before shifting into dog tilt and conclude it shortly after the movement concludes, creating a cushioned airflow around the motion. Let your exhalation initiate the transition into cat tilt, ceasing shortly after the movement’s completion. Briefly pause after each inhalation and exhalation. Ensure the entire motion is imbued with the presence of breath.
  6. While oscillating between cat tilt and dog tilt, perceive the breath as the impetus for movement, originating from your pelvis. The initial movement emanates from your hips. The motion subsequently travels through your spine and culminates at the crown of your head. Aim for seamless transitions, upholding a fluid and continuous quality to your movement.
  7. Internalize this understanding: The breath acts as the initiator, and your hips are the initial point of movement. For instance, each exhalation naturally involves drawing the lower abdomen inwards and backward towards the spine, simultaneously tucking the coccyx. Allow this to trigger the cat tilt action, and subsequently progress into the full spinal movement. Execute the dog tilt phase similarly, with the inhalation sparking the movement. Acknowledge that the breath fuels the motion, and the movement commences from your core.
  8. Return to the neutral position and relax.
  9. Your hips will consistently be positioned in cat tilt or dog tilt, or transitioning towards either end of this spectrum. It’s essential to master translating these fundamental movements into every pose. Recognize the appropriate orientation of your pelvis based on the pose, and consistently establish accurate alignment at your core. Tilting the sacrum backward leads to cat tilt, and reversing this action results in dog tilt.
  10. Most backbends are best executed with cat tilt, although exceptions exist due to the prevention of excessive lumbar bending. Forward bends are typically approached with dog tilt to enable hip-centric folding without spinal rounding.
  11. Always initiate movement from your core. All energy lines and breath originate here. Your core serves as the genesis of motion. The more you engage your core in movement—sensing from within and being attuned—the more your body will guide you towards correct execution of various poses. Authenticity in practice generates a sense of rightness, and refining your sensitivity to these sensations will help you distinguish the difference. This discernment is pivotal to mastering yoga.
  12. You, yourself, are the most effective instructor, and by sustaining internal concentration, you will optimally internalize the practice of yoga. Direct your awareness inward, allowing it to manifest outwardly. Remember, yoga is not mechanical.
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Common Mistakes

Avoid following common mistakes while practicing the Marjariasana (Marjaryasana), they help you derive the full benefits of the Cat and Dog Tilt movements, while ensuring your practice remains safe and effective.

1. Overarching the Lower Back in Dog Tilt

Some individuals tend to overly arch their lower back in the dog tilt position. This can result from an excessive focus on creating a deep backbend without properly engaging the core muscles.

Pro-tip: To prevent this mistake, it’s crucial to engage your abdominal muscles as you initiate the dog tilt. Focus on drawing your navel towards your spine and tilting your pelvis forward from your hip flexors. This will help distribute the bend evenly along your spine and prevent excessive arching in the lumbar region.

2. Collapsing Shoulders in Cat Tilt

Allowing the shoulders to round and collapse during cat tilt can stem from a lack of awareness and core engagement. This mistake can also occur if there’s a focus solely on rounding the back without considering the entire alignment.

Pro-tip: Maintain an active engagement of your core muscles, even during cat tilt. Press your hands firmly into the ground to create an upward lift from your shoulders, preventing them from sinking. Imagine your shoulder blades gently spreading apart on your back to encourage a broadening across the upper back.

3. Rushing the Movements

Impatience or not synchronizing the movements with the breath can lead to rushing through the cat and dog tilts. This can compromise the fluidity and effectiveness of the movements.

Pro-tip: Prioritize the coordination of movement with breath. Inhale as you transition into dog tilt, and exhale as you move into cat tilt. Allow the breath to guide the pace of your movements, and avoid rushing. Slower, controlled motions ensure that you’re fully engaging the right muscles and maintaining mindfulness throughout the practice.

4. Neglecting the Pelvic Tilt

Sometimes practitioners may skip paying attention to the pelvic tilt entirely, leading to improper alignment and diminished benefits from the poses.

Pro-tip: Always focus on the pelvic tilt as the starting point for both poses. In dog tilt, ensure that you’re tilting your pelvis forward from your hip flexors, lifting the sitting bones while keeping the core engaged. In cat tilt, tuck the tailbone gently under and draw the abdominal muscles towards the spine, creating a rounded spine. A proper pelvic tilt sets the foundation for the rest of the movement.

5. Disregarding Core Engagement

Failing to engage the core muscles can result in less stability and reduced effectiveness of the poses.

Pro-tip: Be mindful of engaging your core throughout the entire movement. Whether it’s to prevent overarching in dog tilt or to support the rounded spine in cat tilt, the core muscles play a pivotal role in maintaining proper alignment and balance.

Modifications and Variations

The modifications and variations in asanas like the Bidalasana can be extremely beneficial to accommodate different body types, flexibility levels, and individual needs. However, always choose the modifications and variations based on your needs, and it’s crucial to listen to your body.

Modifications:

  • Knee Support: If you experience discomfort in your knees, placing a cushion or folded blanket under them can alleviate pressure and make the pose more comfortable. When in the hands-and-knees position, position a cushion or blanket under your knees for extra padding and support. This helps distribute your weight and reduces strain on the knee joints.
  • Prop under Hands: Some individuals might have limited wrist flexibility or discomfort in their wrists. Placing a prop under the hands can ease wrist strain. Instead of placing your hands directly on the ground, use yoga blocks or similar props to raise your hands. This reduces the angle at your wrists, making the pose more accessible.
  • Reduced Range of Motion: Limited flexibility or mobility in the spine might make the full range of motion challenging. Instead of aiming for an intense arch or rounding, perform smaller, gentler movements. Focus on moving within your comfortable range and gradually work towards increased flexibility.
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Variations:

  • Dynamic Movement: Incorporating dynamic movement between cat and dog tilt adds flow and increases spinal mobility. As you inhale, transition into dog tilt, and as you exhale, move into cat tilt. Keep alternating between the two poses, moving with your breath. This variation maintains a continuous, rhythmic flow.
  • Extended Arm Variation: Extending one arm forward while in cat or dog tilt can add an element of balance and stability challenge. In either pose, extend one arm forward parallel to the ground while keeping the opposite leg extended backward. This engages your core and challenges your balance. Alternate sides for a balanced practice.
  • Supported Cat and Dog Tilt: Using props to support the limbs can provide a gentler experience and ease strain on the muscles. Place a bolster under your abdomen in cat tilt to provide support while rounding the spine. In dog tilt, rest your forearms on a block to ease the pressure on the wrists.
  • Full Body Stretch: Combining cat and dog tilt with a full-body stretch can provide a comprehensive movement. As you transition from cat to dog tilt, extend one arm forward and the opposite leg backward, creating a long line from fingertips to toes. Alternate sides for a dynamic full-body stretch.

Precautions and Contraindications

Precautions and contraindications are vital in yoga asana to ensure the safety of practitioners, especially when performing poses like Cat Pose. However, the precautions and contraindications of this pose are explaining below, with why they are necessary and how they are implemented for various conditions:

  • Injury of the Shoulders, Wrists, Neck, Hip, Knee, and Back: These injuries can be aggravated by improper alignment or excessive strain in these poses, leading to further pain or damage. If you have any of these injuries, consult a healthcare professional before attempting this asana or any yoga asanas. Depending on the severity of the injury, you might need to avoid placing weight on affected areas, modify the poses, or skip them altogether until you’ve fully recovered.
  • Blood Pressure: Sudden changes in body position and breath can impact blood pressure, potentially leading to dizziness or other complications. Individuals with low or high blood pressure should approach these poses with caution. Avoid quick transitions and focus on maintaining steady, controlled breath. Consider performing gentler movements and avoiding intense arching or rounding to prevent any sudden shifts in blood pressure.
  • Migraine: The quick changes in head position during these poses can trigger or exacerbate migraines in sensitive individuals. If you’re prone to migraines, avoid any drastic head movements. Perform the poses slowly and mindfully, keeping the head relatively neutral and not straining the neck. If you’re experiencing a migraine, it’s best to skip these poses altogether.
  • Spondylitis: Spondylitis involves inflammation in the spine, which can be aggravated by excessive bending or arching movements. Consult a healthcare professional or yoga instructor/teacher experienced in therapeutic yoga before attempting these poses with spondylitis. Modify the movements to be gentle and within a comfortable range, focusing on maintaining neutral alignment and avoiding extreme arching or rounding.
  • Arthritis of the Knee and Wrists: Arthritic joints can be sensitive to weight-bearing and extreme ranges of motion, which can worsen discomfort. If you have arthritis in the knees or wrists, consider using props to support those areas during these poses. Use blocks under your hands or a cushion under your knees for added comfort and stability. Avoid any movements that cause pain or strain in the affected joints.

Does Cat Pose increase height?

No, Cat Pose (Bidalasana) is not specifically intended to increase height. While some proponents of yoga and alternative health practices might claim that certain poses can increase height, it’s important to approach such claims with a critical perspective. The idea that Cat Pose or any other specific yoga pose can significantly increase height is not supported by scientific evidence. While yoga, including poses like Cat Pose, can have positive effects on posture, flexibility, and overall well-being, there is limited scientific backing for the notion that practicing this pose will directly lead to a substantial increase in height. Height is largely determined by genetics, growth factors, nutrition, and other biological variables.

Is Cat Pose good for spine?

Yes, Cat Pose (Bidalasana) is generally considered good for the spine and can offer several benefits for spinal health. Cat Pose is commonly used in yoga practices as a warm-up and mobility exercise for the spine. The alternating movement between Cat Pose and Cow Pose (a complementary pose) helps to gently flex and extend the spine. This helps improve the flexibility and range of motion of the spinal column.

How many times should you do Cat Pose?

The number of times you should practice Cat Pose (Bidalasana) can vary depending on your goals, your level of comfort, and the context of your yoga practice. Generally, Cat Pose is often incorporated into a flow with Cow Pose as part of the Cat-Cow sequence. In the context of a warm-up, you might repeat the Cat-Cow sequence around 5 to 10 times to gradually increase spinal mobility and wake up the body. If you’re using Cat Pose for therapeutic purposes, such as relieving lower back tension or improving posture, you might practice the Cat-Cow sequence for a slightly longer duration, around 10 to 15 times. In more dynamic yoga practices like Vinyasa or Ashtanga, the Cat-Cow sequence can be incorporated into a flow with other poses. In this case, you might move through the sequence fewer times, perhaps 3 to 5 times, as part of a larger sequence. Ultimately, the number of times you practice Cat Pose is a personal choice. Some days you might feel like doing it more, while on other days you might do it less. Pay attention to how your body feels and adjust accordingly.

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