Sphinx Pose is a beginning backbend in yoga that helps to open the chest, lungs, and low back. It is a variation of the backbend, Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), that is suitable for those with wrist pain, injuries, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Since Sphinx is performed on the forearms, it takes the pressure off the wrists while providing all of the benefits of Cobra Pose.
Its name in Sanskrit, "Salamba Bhujangasana" (sah-LOM-bah boo-jahn-GAHS-uh-nuh), comes from four Sanskrit words:
- "Sa" — meaning "with"
- "Alamba" — meaning "support"
- "Bhujanga" — meaning "cobra" or "serpent"
- "Asana" — meaning "pose"
The "support" refers to your forearms, which help lift your upper body in the pose. This pose is more commonly referred to as "Sphinx Pose" because the pose resembles the mythological, half-lion creatures, immortalized in ancient Egyptian statues.
Benefits of Sphinx Pose
Sphinx Pose is a gentle backbend suitable for most beginners. It lengthens the abdominal muscles, strengthens the spine, and firms the buttocks. It also stretches and opens the chest, lungs, and shoulders. It invigorates the body, soothes the nervous system, and is also therapeutic for fatigue.
If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.
The pressure placed on the abdomen stimulates the digestive organs. It warms the spine and helps to rebalance the natural curve of your lower back. This counteracts low-back flatness caused by long periods of sitting. Sphinx Pose is also an excellent preparatory pose for deeper backbends.
In addition, Sphinx is considered a gentle "heart-opening" pose because it stimulates the fourth “chakra” (energy center), located at your heart center. In yoga, it is believed that opening this chakra can help increase self-confidence and inspire a more positive outlook on life, while also helping to alleviate depression.
Do not practice Sphinx Pose if you have a recent or chronic injury to the back, arms, or shoulders. Women who are pregnant should avoid practicing this pose while on the floor; though, they may practice it standing with their forearms against a wall (see Modifications & Variations, below). 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, hip-width apart. Keep your arms at your sides and your chin on the mat. Press the tops of your feet into the mat and spread your toes. Do not tuck your toes, as this can crunch your spine.
- Bring your arms up and rest your elbows under your shoulders with your forearms on the floor, parallel to each other. Point your middle fingers directly forward.
- On an inhalation, press your forearms into the floor and lift your head and chest off the floor. Press your pubic bone into the floor. Strongly engage your legs. Roll your outer thighs slightly toward the floor to help lengthen your low back.
- Keep your elbows tucked into your sides. Drop your shoulder blades down your back and draw your chest forward. Lengthen your tailbone toward your heels.
- Let your face and eyes soften. Draw your chin toward the back of your neck. Gaze at your "third eye," the space between your eyebrows.
- Hold for up to 10 breaths. To release, exhale as you slowly lower your torso, chest, and head to the floor. Relax your arms at your sides. Turn your head to the side and rest quietly.
Modifications & Variations
Sphinx Pose can be a good introductory backbend for beginners; a soothing backbend for more experienced students; and the perfect alternative to Cobra Pose for those with wrist 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 Sphinx Pose while standing up instead of on the floor. Stand facing a wall; then place your forearms and palms against it. Keep your forearms shoulder-width apart. Align your elbows with your shoulders, creating a 90-degree angle between your upper and lower arms. Your chest and torso should be away from the wall, not pressed against it. Press your forearms against the wall and draw your shoulder blades into your upper back to achieve the gentle backbend.
- For a greater challenge, try a forearm variation on a "vinyasa". Begin in Dolphin Plank. Then, lower directly into Sphinx Pose. On an exhalation, press up into Dolphin Pose. Then, come back into Dolphin Plank. Repeat 10-20 times (being careful not to over-strain your shoulders).
Practicing Sphinx Pose can warm the spine and lengthen it, helping to prepare it for deeper backbends. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- 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.
- Strongly engage your legs and press down through your pubic bone. This will help you lift your chest higher in the pose.
- Never force yourself into the pose, striving for a deeper backbend. Go only as far as your body allows. Think "extension" and "lift," rather than "bend."
- Remember, the depth of your backbend doesn't matter! What matters is the even distribution of your spine's curve and your ability to breathe smoothly while in the pose.
Discover the Riddle of Sphinx Pose
Sphinx Pose can be a great way to counteract a long day of sitting. It stretches out your spine, stimulates your digestion, and rejuvenates your whole body. Lifting your heart energizes your mind and spirit, too! Practicing this pose regularly can bring positive changes to your practice and to your everyday life.