Marjariasana (aka Bidalasana) or Cat posture is one of my favourites. It is relatively simple but hugely beneficial for the body and mind. Technically though, there is a little more to it than it seems. But isn’t that the case with everything? The more we know about a thing, the more detail there is to know about it.
It is a terrific posture for the spine and torso. The movement with the breath opens into the front and then into the back of the spine, elongating and strengthening.
It stretches the back muscles, releases tension in the back and spine, strengthens the stabiliser muscles in the spine and abdomen.
It engages the core muscles which support the spine.
It massages the spinal column, tones the spinal nerves, thus soothing and calming the nervous system.
It aids digestion, elimination, metabolism, balances the endocrine system (reproductive glands, thyroid gland etc.).
It helps create flexibility in the hips, knees, shoulders and wrists.
And that’s just some of the physical benefits. It also works through the chakra system, opening each chakra in the front and back of the body, moving prana (energy or life force) through the body. As you have more in contact with the ground through the hands and knees as well as the feet, it is very grounding, supporting Muladhara and Swadhisthana Chakras, making it great for creativity and reproduction.
However, my favourite aspect of the vinyasa (series of movements or postures with the breath) is its meditative quality. It allows you to work completely with the breath, focusing on the movement of the breath in the body and allowing the breath to lead the movement and to direct each transition. This is where Yoga happens, where all the physical benefits are integrated, and the mind has a chance to let go of its constant jabbering and simply feel the flow. The body, breath and mind come together in unison, in Yoga.
How to do it
As I said, it is a little more technical than it looks. It looks like you just drop your tunny to the floor and allow your back to drop down then round it all the way up and repeat ... No, in fact a big NO. Just dropping the tummy down can aggravate a sore back or create tension and pain in the lower back, and there is little muscular engagement in the core if it is done this way.
Begin on your hands and knees. Hands are under the shoulders, the inside creases of your elbows are turned in to face each other and there is a gentle bend into your elbows. It is very important to avoid locking into the elbow. This will engage the muscles in upper arms (specifically the triceps) and you should be able to feel the arms working. The knees are under the hips and the feet are behind the knees. (Position 1 below)
As you breathe in, bring the chest forward between the arms, and press the buttocks back to the wall behind you – this is more of a lengthening of the front of the body rather than a dropping down of the front of the body. As you press the bum back, feel the lower abdominal muscles engage. (Position 2)
Wait for the exhalation to begin, then round the spine up to the ceiling, pulling the hips toward the elbows, press the hands into the mat. (Position 3)
Wait for the next inhalation and repeat steps 2 and 3.
Close the eyes and just focus on the breath, notice where the breath arises and begin the movement from this same place (most likely somewhere between the heart and the belly button). There is very little lifting and dropping of the head, the head simply moves with the natural movement of the spine and is the last thing to lift and release.
Try it for 2-3 minutes and see if you can begin to feel the connection, the union, the Yoga. Where the breath and the body and the mind are one.
Once you have the above working in the body AND mind, try this twisting variation. Slide one arm through the space between the opposite hand and knee and take the shoulder and cheek to the floor. Keep the supporting elbow heading up to the ceiling (in the pic below this is my right elbow) and gently press the supporting hand into the mat. This will take a little pressure off the shoulder. Hold for a few breaths then repeat on opposite side.