Cat Stretch Pose (Marjariasana): Steps, Benefits, and Contraindications

Cat Stretch Pose (Marjaryasana or Marjariasana) - SharpMuscle
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Cat Stretch Pose, also known as Marjaryasana, strengthens the wrists and shoulders, while massaging the digestive organs, improving digestive health and toning the abdomen.

It is a simple and accessible asana that helps to improve spinal flexibility, release tension in the back, and promote mind-body awareness. Cat Stretch Pose is commonly used as a warm-up pose or a gentle stretch in yoga sequences.

Information

Known as:Cat Stretch Pose, Marjaryasana, Viralasana, Billiasana, Vidalasana, Cat Pose
Sanskrit name:मार्जर्यासन
IAST:mārjaryāsana
Pronunciation:mar-juh-ree-ah-suh-nuh
Type:Seated, kneeling pose
Level:Beginner
Focus:Spine, core
Drishti:Nasagra (the tip of the nose);
Ajna (the third eye or towards the space between the eyebrows);
Urdhva (upwards towards the ceiling)
Chakra:Muladhara (Root Chakra), Manipura (Solar Plexus Chakra)
Indications:Spine, shoulders, neck, abdominal, back, stress, nervous system, digestion, digestive discomfort, invigorate, tension, emotions
Counterposes:Bitilasana (Cow Pose), Balasana (Child’s Pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Preparatory poses:Sukhasana (Easy Pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Bitilasana (Cow Pose), Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge Pose), Marjaryasana Variation with Cow Pose, Spinal Warm-up Movements
Follow-up poses:Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Balasana (Child’s Pose), Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Bitilasana (Cow Pose), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose), Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Spinal Twist Pose)
Contraindications:Injury of the shoulders, wrists, neck, hip, knee, and the back; Blood pressure, Migraine, Spondylitis and arthritis of the knee or wrist

Meaning

The term “Marjaryasana” is a Sanskrit, which is made of two words — Marjaree + Asana:

  1. Marjaree” = “cat”
  2. Asana” = “pose” or “posture”

Therefore, “Marjaryasana” can be translated as “Cat Pose” or “Cat Stretch Pose”. This yoga asana is named after the resemblance it has to the stretching and arching movements of a cat.

Benefits of Cat Stretch Pose (Marjaryasana)

Marjariasana offers various physical and mental benefits, which are giving below:

Physical Benefits:

  • Spinal flexibility: The gentle movement of the spine in Cat Stretch Pose helps to increase flexibility and mobility in the vertebral column. It stretches and tones the muscles, ligaments, and tendons along the back, promoting a healthier and more supple spine.
  • Core strength: Engaging the core muscles during the asana helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis and obliques. A strong core supports proper posture and stability throughout the body.
  • Improved posture: By elongating and aligning the spine, Marjaryasana promotes good posture. It helps to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting and slouching, encouraging a more upright and balanced posture.
  • Joint mobility: The movement of the wrists, shoulders, and hips in the asana helps to improve joint mobility and flexibility. It increases circulation to these areas, reducing stiffness and promoting healthier joint function.
  • Digestive Health: The gentle compression and stretching of the abdominal area in Marjaryasana can stimulate digestion and help relieve digestive discomfort.
  • Relief from back pain: The gentle stretching and mobilization of the spine in the asana can help alleviate back pain and discomfort. It promotes relaxation and releases tension in the muscles of the back, providing relief from stiffness and minor aches.
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Mental Benefits:

  • Mind-body connection: Cat Stretch Pose encourages a deeper connection between the mind and body. By focusing on the breath and the movement of the spine, it helps to bring awareness to the present moment, promoting mindfulness and a sense of grounding.
  • Stress reduction: The rhythmic movement and conscious breathing in the asana can have a calming effect on the nervous system. It helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and mental tension, promoting a sense of relaxation and overall well-being.
  • Energizing and rejuvenating: Marjaryasana can help invigorate the body and mind. The gentle movement and conscious breathwork stimulate circulation and the flow of energy, revitalizing the body and providing a sense of freshness and vitality.
  • Mental clarity: Practicing this asana can help clear the mind and improve mental focus. The combination of movement, breath awareness, and the release of tension in the back can enhance mental clarity and concentration.

Cat Stretch Pose (Marjariasana) Practice Guide

Cat Stretch Pose involves a gentle movement of the spine. It is often practiced as a part of the Cat-Cow sequence, where the spine alternates between rounding and arching.

In Marjariasana, the practitioner starts on all fours with hands directly beneath the shoulders and knees beneath the hips. The spine is then arched upwards, similar to a stretching cat, while the head is gently dropped downwards.

Step-by-step Instructions

  1. Begin by kneeling with a straight spine, and then lean forward and rest your hands on the floor.
  2. Adjust your knees to be just below your hips and your wrists below your shoulders. Separate your fingers to improve your balance.
  3. Keep your feet hip-width apart and align your wrists, elbows, and shoulders in a straight line perpendicular to the floor. Distribute your body weight evenly between your knees and hands. Keep your back flat and in a neutral position.
  4. In this position, your body will resemble a table, with your hands and legs acting as the four legs of the table. This position is known as the tabletop position.
  5. Take a few breaths in this position and focus on the sensation of the air flowing through your body as Prana.
  6. From the tabletop position, exhale and round your back, lifting it upwards. Roll your shoulders back and push your tailbone down.
  7. At the same time, stretch your neck and gently bring your chin towards your collarbones. This will create a curve in your tailbone, back, and neck.
  8. While maintaining this position, take deep breaths. Inhale to lift the diaphragm and engage your abdominal muscles by pulling them towards the spine. Exhale to release the tension in your abdomen.
  9. Hold this stretch for 10-15 seconds, and then return to the tabletop position. This completes one round.
  10. Repeat the above process, exhaling and rounding your back, for 5-7 rounds according to your comfort level.
  11. Once you have completed the desired number of rounds, return to the tabletop position and take a few long and deep breaths.
  12. Exhale and lift your hands off the ground, coming back to your knees.
  13. From there, sit on your heels in Vajrasana. Finally, unfold your legs and relax forward.
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Common Mistakes

Common mistakes in Marjaryasana (Cat Pose) can hinder the effectiveness of the pose and potentially lead to strain or discomfort. Understanding the mistakes and their reasons can help practitioners avoid them and practice the asana correctly. Awareness, mindfulness, and a focus on proper alignment are key to avoiding the common mistakes in this asana.

However, the specific common mistakes of Cat Stretch Pose are explaining below:

1. Overarching or compressing the lower back

This mistake often occurs when practitioners overly exaggerate the arching of the back, leading to excessive compression in the lower back. It can strain the lumbar spine and cause discomfort. To avoid this, it’s crucial to maintain a gentle and controlled movement, focusing on elongating the entire spine evenly.

2. Collapsing the shoulders or rounding the upper back excessively

Allowing the shoulders to collapse or rounding the upper back too much can restrict the range of motion and limit the benefits of the asana. It can also strain the neck and shoulders. The key is to maintain an open chest and broad shoulders while focusing on the movement of the spine.

3. Holding the breath or shallow breathing

Holding the breath or not breathing deeply during Cat Stretch Pose can lead to tension and restrict the flow of energy. It is essential to maintain a steady and relaxed breath throughout the asana. Inhale deeply as you arch the back, and exhale fully as you round the spine, allowing the breath to guide the movement.

4. Forcing the chin to the chest

Straining to forcefully tuck the chin to the chest can cause discomfort and strain in the neck. Instead, focus on lengthening the back of the neck and maintaining a natural alignment with the rest of the spine. Avoid any excessive or forced movements that feel uncomfortable.

5. Lack of awareness in the alignment of the wrists and hands

Neglecting proper alignment in the wrists and hands can put undue stress on these areas, potentially leading to wrist pain or discomfort. Ensure that the wrists are directly beneath the shoulders and the fingers are spread wide, providing a stable and supportive base for the asana.

6. Not engaging the core muscles

Neglecting to engage the core muscles can make the pose less stable and less effective in strengthening the abdominal area. It is crucial to activate the abdominal muscles by drawing the navel toward the spine. This engagement helps to support the spine and promote a stronger and more stable posture.

Modifications and Variations

Modifications and variations in Cat Stretch Pose aim to make it more accessible, safe, and enjoyable for individuals with different needs and abilities. It helps to accommodate physical limitations, prevent strain or injury, and allow practitioners to explore the asana in a way that suits their body. It’s crucial to choose modifications and variations that feel comfortable and appropriate for your own practice.

However, the modifications and variations of Marjaryasana are explaining below:

1. Use props for wrist support

Placing a folded blanket or using yoga blocks under the hands can provide additional support and cushioning for the wrists, especially if there is discomfort or sensitivity in that area. It helps to alleviate strain and make the asana more accessible for those with wrist issues or injuries.

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2. Gentle rounding of the back

If there are limitations in spinal flexibility or discomfort in rounding the back deeply, one can modify the asana by gently rounding the back rather than deeply arching it. This modification reduces strain and allows for a more gentle stretch along the spine.

3. Supported Cat Pose

Performing Cat Pose while kneeling on a bolster or a rolled-up blanket can offer extra support for the knees and provide a more comfortable base. This modification is helpful for individuals with knee sensitivity or injuries.

4. Seated Cat Pose

Instead of performing the pose on hands and knees, Cat Pose can be practiced while seated on a chair or yoga block. This variation helps those who have difficulty getting down on the floor or have limited mobility in the wrists, knees, or hips.

5. Dynamic movement with breath

Instead of holding the pose statically, Cat Stretch Pose can be practiced with fluid movements synchronized with the breath. This variation adds a dynamic element to the asana, allowing for a gentle flow and deeper connection with the breath and body.

6. Cat-Cow Flow

Combining Cat Pose with Bitilasana (Cow Pose) creates a flowing sequence where the spine alternates between rounding and arching. This variation provides a more comprehensive stretch for the spine and promotes flexibility and mobility.

Precautions and Contraindications

Consider precautions and contraindications before practicing Marjaryasana (Cat Pose) to ensure safety and avoid potential complications. It is crucial to listen to your body, respect its limitations, and modify or skip poses as necessary to ensure a safe and enjoyable practice. Individuals with any concerns or specific medical conditions, it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified yoga instructor/teacher for personalized guidance.

However, the precautions and contraindications of Cat Stretch Pose are explaining below:

  • Don’t lift the knuckles or center of the palm: Lifting your knuckles or center of your palm can put excessive pressure on your wrists, potentially leading to strain or injury. It is crucial to distribute the weight evenly throughout the hands and maintain a stable and supportive base during the asana.
  • Do not try to tuck the chin to the collarbone forcefully: Forcing the chin to the collarbone in Marjariasana can strain the neck and cervical spine. Instead, gently lengthen the neck and allow for a natural alignment with the rest of the spine. Avoid any excessive or forceful movements that can cause discomfort or injury.
  • Perform on an empty stomach or at least 4-6 hours after a meal: Practicing Marjaryasana or any yoga asana on a full stomach can cause discomfort, digestive issues, and may affect the ease of movement. It is recommended to practice Cat Pose when the stomach is relatively empty to ensure optimal comfort and safety.
  • Injury of the shoulders, wrists, neck, hip, knee, and the back: Individuals with pre-existing injuries or pain in the shoulders, wrists, neck, hips, knees, or back, it is crucial to exercise caution or avoid Cat Stretch Pose. This pose involves movements and weight-bearing on these areas, and practicing with existing injuries may exacerbate the condition or cause further discomfort.
  • Blood pressure: If you have low or high blood pressure, it is advisable to approach Marjaryasana with caution. The pose involves changes in blood flow and pressure, which can affect individuals with specific blood pressure conditions. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a qualified yoga instructor/teacher is recommended to ensure safety and appropriate modifications.
  • Migraine: Individuals with a history of migraines or are currently experiencing a migraine episode, it is best to avoid practicing this asana. The movements and positioning of the head and neck in the asana can potentially trigger or worsen migraine symptoms. It is important to prioritize your comfort and well-being.
  • Spondylitis and arthritis of the knee or wrist: Individuals with spondylitis or arthritis of the knee or wrist should approach Cat Stretch Pose with caution. These conditions can affect joint mobility and stability. It is advisable to modify or skip asanas that put excessive strain on these areas or consult with a healthcare professional for guidance on safe and suitable modifications.

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