The earliest known description of ‘Cat’ pose (to date) is called Mārjārottānāsana (Upturned Cat Pose), which is described in an eighteenth-century yoga text the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati. The image seen here is an artistic representation from the nineteenth-century royal digest named the Śrītattvanidhi of the Mysore Palace.
Unlike the version of ‘Cat’ pose commonly practised in Modern Postural Yoga (i.e. flexing the spine while in a kneeling position), this particular āsana is practised in the supine position and requires quite a bit of muscular effort in the abdomen to achieve the movement of knees to ears. When practised repetitively, it becomes an abdominal oblique strengthening posture.
Having positioned [himself] like an up-turned dog, [the yogin] should touch both knees with his ears in turn. [This is] the up-turned cat [pose].
Translation by Jason Birch (2015)
The description of this āsana immediately follows that of Śvottānāsana – ‘Upturned Dog Pose’. As the text links one āsana to the next, the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati is the only pre-modern yoga text known today to provide a sequenced practice as well as āsanas that involve repetitive movement rather than just the static seated postures described in earlier Haṭhayoga texts.
During an upcoming workshop at YogaJaya, Jacqueline Hargreaves and Jason Birch will discuss the historical significance of the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati text’s contribution to the traditions of yoga at the Mysore Palace and its possible influence on Krishnamacharya, the founder of the world’s most popular form of modern yoga, Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa Yoga.