Photographs: Jahnavi Sheriff
The cat stretch or marjariasana is quite a miraculous pose. It is one of those cure-all poses that are suggested as therapy for most ailments: spinal problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, skin problems, all respiratory ailments, urogenital problems and digestive disorders. It is also used as therapy for emotional issues like depression, anger management and lethargy.
A soothing pose that may be used exclusively to de-stress oneself, it is suggested as one of those poses which may be done first thing in the morning, as you wake up. It is also one of a few poses allowed during menstruation, since it helps contain cramps.
The pose is easy to negotiate and can be done at any level of practice, from beginners to the advanced levels. It has minimal contraindications and works at various levels inside the body. It also offers a super rest-break between more difficult poses and relieves stiffness you may feel in difficult back-bends. The pose also offers many variations, so it remains challenging.
In a two-part series, yoga acharya Shameem Akthar, trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, Kerala, takes you through all the different ways you can do a relaxing, healing cat stretch in yoga.
Catch more of Shameem's yoga writings and information about her upcoming workshops at jaisivananda.blogspot.com.
This article only attempts to enthuse readers towards yoga practice and complement your existing practice. Yoga is best learnt under the personal guidance of a teacher.
Marjariasana (Cat stretch, stage I)
Sit on your heels. Lean forward to place your palms flat on the ground in front of you, so you are now on your fours. Inhale raising your head towards the ceiling, caving in your spine. This is the first stage of the classic cat stretch and the stage from which you move into all the other variations mentioned. Dropping your spine and curving must be mastered well before moving into the following stages.
Benefits: It is the safest among yogic asanas, with multiple benefits of de-stressing, improving lung capacity, rectifying postural defects (posture impacts breathing). It also boosts immunity by impacting the immune gland at chest.
Marjariasana (Cat stretch, stage 2)
Get into position (stage 1). After curving your spine, exhale deeply, drop your head and move your chin down so it is locked between your collarbone thus arching your spine. Your breath may also be held for a few seconds if you do not have chronic problems like asthma, heart conditions or high blood pressure. Stiffen your arms and legs simultaneously to extend and deepen the pose further.
Combine the first stage and this one to complete one round. Do up to five to nine rounds for general health.
Benefits: The spinal arch makes your back flexible. The chin lock hikes metabolism due to the pressure applied on the thyroid. The downward head position sends a gush of blood to the brain. Arms and legs get toned if you are able to stiffen them while doing the chin lock.
Vyagrasana (Lion-roaring pose)
In this version of the cat stretch (also referred to as the lion-roaring pose), go on your fours, in the classic cat stretch or majariasana. Inhale. Exhale, bend your right leg inwards at the knee, simultaneously bending your head towards it. Try to reach your knee with your nose, or your chin to your knee. Inhale, release lifting your right leg back and up (as shown in the photo alongside).
This is one round. Do up to five rounds for your right leg. Rest in the majariasana. Repeat entire exercise for your left leg.
Benefits: Works out the leg from toes to hip joint. Tones and shapes legs. Gives a powerful traction to the spine too.
Marjariasana (Cat stretch, variation)
Sit on your fours as in the first stage of the cat pose. Place your palms flat on the ground, and then your elbows. Inhale and walk your knees backwards a bit . Then exhale to dip your chest as shown, placing either your chin or forehead on the ground between your hands. Breathe normally in the final stage, staying for as long as comfortable.
Benefits: It is an extremely soothing, powerful relaxation pose. It caves the abdomen in, toning it. The upper back gets a soothing, healing stretch, as does the rest of the spine.