Cobra Pose — Bhujangasana (boo-jahn-GAHS-uh-nuh) — is a beginning backbend in yoga that helps to prepare the body for deeper backbends. Its name comes from the Sanskrit words, "bhujanga” and "asana" (meaning "serpent" and "pose," respectively). Cobra is an essential element of Sun Salutations, and is an alternative to practicing Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) in the Sun Salutations sequences.
Benefits of Cobra Pose
Cobra Pose is best known for its ability to increase the flexibility of the spine. It stretches the chest while strengthening the spine and shoulders. It also helps to open the lungs, which is therapeutic for asthma. This pose also stimulates the abdominal organs, improving digestion.
An energizing backbend, Cobra reduces stress and fatigue. It also firms and tones the shoulders, abdomen, and buttocks, and helps to ease the pain of sciatica. Traditional yoga texts claim the pose heals the body of disease and awakens Kundalini — the divine cosmic energy that brings forth self-realization.
Here's a way to radically rethink your backbends: Size doesn't matter. To reap the physical, energetic, and therapeutic effects of backbends, you don't have to create the deepest arch. Just think of creating a smooth, even arc in your spine. Rather than searching for intensity, search for evenness.
The Low Cobra variation of the pose is suitable for beginners and those with less spinal flexibility, while the High Cobra option is appropriate for more advanced students. Those who are very stiff can benefit from practicing Cobra while standing, with their hands placed against a wall.
Please do not practice Cobra if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, or a recent back or wrist injury. Women who are pregnant should avoid practicing this pose while on the floor, although they may practice it standing with their palms against a wall. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin by lying face-down on the floor with your legs extended behind you, spread a few inches apart. The tops of your feet should rest on the mat — do not tuck your toes, as this can crunch your spine.
- Place your hands under your shoulders with your fingers pointing toward the top of the mat. Hug your elbows in to the sides of your body.
- Press down through the tops of your feet and your pubic bone. Spread your toes.
- Inhale as you gently lift your head and chest off the floor. Keep your lower ribs on the floor.
- Draw your shoulders back and your heart forward, but do not crunch your neck. Keep your shoulders dropped away from your ears.
- Beginners and those with neck pain should keep their gaze toward the floor. Those with more flexibility can bring their gaze to the sky.
- Begin to straighten your arms, lifting your chest off the floor. Press the tops of your thighs down firmly into the floor. This is Low Cobra.
- Do not push yourself away from the floor, forcing the backbend. Instead, allow the lift to come as a natural extension of your spine. There should be almost no weight on your hands — you should be able to lift your palms off the mat for a moment while in the pose.
- Only straighten your arms as much as your body allows. Deepen the stretch as your practice advances, but avoid straining to achieve a deeper backbend. If your flexibility permits, you can straighten your arms all the way while maintaining the connection of the front of your pelvis and legs with the floor. This is High Cobra.
- Actively press your shoulder blades into your upper back. Keep your elbows hugged in to your sides. Broaden across your collar bones and lift your heart. Glide the tops of your shoulders away from your ears. Distribute the length of the backbend evenly through your entire spine.
- Hold the pose for up to 30 seconds. To release, exhale as you slowly lower your chest and forehead to the mat. Turn your head to the right, resting your left ear on the mat. Relax your arms alongside your body. Repeat the pose up to five times. Those practicing Sun Salutations [link] should move directly from Cobra Pose into Downward-Facing Dog [link] by lifting their hips and rolling over their toes to press the soles of their feet on the mat.
Modifications & Variations
Cobra Pose is a great backbend for beginners. When done correctly, it can gradually bring flexibility and strength to the entire spine. Remember to take it slowly and don't push your body to achieve a deeper backbend. If you are experiencing discomfort in your back or neck, only lift your chest as far as you can without causing pain. To deepen or lighten the pose, try these simple changes to find a variation that works for you:
- If your spine and shoulders are very stiff, or if you are pregnant, try practicing Cobra standing up instead of on the floor. Stand facing a wall and place your palms against the wall, with your elbows hugged in to your sides. As you press against the wall, draw your shoulder blades firmly into your upper back and broaden across your collar bones.
- For those with more back strength, you can deepen the challenge by lifting your palms off the floor, keeping your chest lifted. Keep your hands and arms in the same position as they were on the floor, but raise your hands a few inches off the mat. Maintain the pose for a few breaths. This variation emphasizes lifting with the back muscles, rather than pressing the body away from the mat.
Practicing Cobra can energize and warm the body, preparing it for deeper backbends in your yoga practice. Keep the following information in mind when performing this pose:
- Strongly engage your legs, pressing them down firmly on the floor. This will help to lift your chest higher in the pose.
- Be careful not to force yourself into the pose, striving for a deeper backbend. Do not push yourself into the pose! Instead, lift yourself into it by using the strength of your back muscles and by pressing down through your thighs. You should be able to lift your hands off the floor for a moment, feeling the lift through extension rather than force.
- Remember, the depth of your backbend doesn't matter! What matters is the even distribution of curve and the ability to breathe smoothly while in the pose.
Snake Your Way to Flexibility
Cobra Pose can be a great way to stretch out your spine and chest throughout the day. It counteracts the slouch that comes from sitting in front of a computer or driving. Bringing more flexibility to your spine will help you to feel more balanced, while opening your chest and heart will energize and rejuvenate you throughout the day!