Cat Pose (Marjariasana/Bidalasana): Challenge Your Core

Cat pose, also known as Marjariasana or Bidalasana, is one of the yoga poses that Joseph Pilates borrowed when he created his exercise regime. This pose builds core strength and spinal flexibility. It’s also a great opportunity to ensure that the muscles on both the left and right sides fire at the same time to accomplish the movement.

In yoga, it is called “cat pose” and in Pilates, it is called “cat stretch.” They are nearly identical, except for two differences. First, Pilates normally moves from table top to cat stretch then back to table top. In yoga, it is possible that you’ll move from a position called “cow” to cat and back to cow. For what we’re doing today, we will just discuss moving from table top to cat. Second, Pilates cueing frequently gives you direction and asks you to pay attention to which body parts move first when you roll up in to your cat stretch and when you roll back to table top. I think you will notice a difference in how the movement feels when you give yourself direction about which body part to move first. It is in the mindful movement that we will find out core work.

How to do Cat Stretch

table top position common in Pilates and yoga


  1. Begin on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and your knees under your hips. Draw the low abdominals up toward the spine to support the lumbar spine (low back). Make sure that the scapulas (shoulder blades) are resting flat on the back of the rib cage. Rotate the pelvis out like you are sticking your butt out to the wall behind you. Find the length through your spine to help your reach from your pelvis through the crown of your head.
  2. cat stretch, common in both yoga and PilatesFor this next step, your goal is to achieve an arched spine while you exhale. There are a few ways to accomplish this. You can tuck your pelvis and roll up one vertebra at a time, with your head coming up last. Or, you could drop your head first and roll up one vertebra at a time, with your tailbone tuck being the last movement. However, you could also drop the head and tuck the tailbone at the same time, sequentially rolling until the middle of your spine reaches up to the ceiling as your apex. Like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, there’s no wrong way to move through cat stretch–as long as you are mindful of your movement. Use your whole exhale to move your body.
  3. As you inhale, return to table top. Again, you have several choices of how to get to table top. You could rotate your pelvis back to neutral and moving sequentially through your spine until your head reaches to neutral. Or, you could lengthen your head and cervical spine (neck) to neutral and return one vertebra at a time until the pelvis rotates back to neutral. Also, you could start at the apex of the spine and start lengthening simultaneously toward the head and pelvis. It’s up to you. They’re all good choices. Use your whole inhale to lengthen back to table top.

Here is a video to show you.

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Play around with the different choices you can make while doing cat stretch. Which combination challenged you the most? Let me know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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