Pose of the Day: Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana) | Banyan Botanicals

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Pose of the Day: Cat-Cow

An Exploration of Ayurvedic Yoga

posted in Yoga & Pranayama
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If we asked a dog how it felt to be in this asana, their answer might be like ours. We feel a stretch through the back of our legs, along our spinal muscles, and around our shoulders. It feels amazing after sitting for long periods of time and is a superb way to prep the body for more movement. 

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Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana) is actually two poses that combine together to create the common mini-sequence known as Cat-Cow. This sequence is designed to help lubricate and warm the spine. We use both flexion and extension to restore the space between each vertebra and support the supple nature of the spine.

Through the Ayurvedic Lens

Cat-Cow balances all three doshas. The qualities (gunas) of the pose are cooling (inhale), heating (exhale), subtle, sticky, and oily. You’ll feel the qualities throughout your spine.

Cat-Cow affects the main nadi, or channel, known as the Sushumna Nadi, which runs the length of the entire spine. This sequence allows the energy to travel more fluidly up and down the spinal column. Your belly button marma point (nabhi) is affected. This will help balance your third chakra and digestive system. The organs involved are the lungs, heart, and digestive organs. This mini-sequence helps us optimize functions throughout the trunk-based organs.

How to Practice

To enter Cat-Cow, start on all fours in a table-top position. Place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. As you inhale, drop your belly, arch your back, and look up. As you exhale, round your upper back, press through your palms, and tuck your pelvis towards your chin. Your gaze is towards your pelvis. The inhale is the “cow” part of the pose because your belly is dropped, and the exhale is the “cat” part of the pose because your spine will arch up like a Halloween cat. Repeat this five to twenty times, coordinating each movement with the breath.

Variations or Modifications

If your spine is stiff, you may make a subtle variation by barely arching and rounding your spine. As your spine becomes warmer and more supple, you’ll be able to do the pose with a more dramatic contrast in the flexion versus extension. Move slowly and with your breath. Always listen to your body. If something hurts, pause, scan your body, and try again slowly and with awareness.

Contraindications

Do not perform Cat-Cow if you have had recent pelvic or abdominal surgery.

Counter-Balancing Pose

Child's Pose (Balasana) is a beautiful counter balancing pose. To practice, bring your toes together with knees wide. Drop your hips back towards your heels and reach your arms out long in front of you or back along the side of your body. Try to bring your torso flat to the ground. Rest your forehead on the earth. Feel the long stretch throughout your entire spine. You’ll also feel your low back decompress, and your hips will open. Stay in Child's Pose for five to ten slow cycles of breath.