Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Cobra pose, known as bhujangasana in Sanskrit, is an invigorating and versatile yoga backbend and heart opener. Depending on your flexibility, the intensity of the backbend can vary from gentle (in the baby cobra variation) to very deep. Cobra pose strengthens the back and arms while expanding and opening the chest.
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
- Lie flat on your stomach with your toes pointed and the soles of your feet facing upward.
- Plant your palms on the mat, below and slightly outside your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide. Your middle finger should point straight forward towards the front of the mat. Bring your arms in, so that they brush your sides.
- Engage your legs and stomach by flexing the abdominal and quadricep muscles. Engaging these muscles will protect your lower back by preventing compression. Press your hips and the tops of your feet into the mat.
- Slowly tilt your head backwards, so that the chin points forward and the back of the neck is gently compressed.
- Inhale. Mimick the movement of the head with the rest of the body by slowly straightening your arms. The lift should come primarily from your back muscles and only secondarily from your arm muscles.
- Scoop your tailbone towards your navel. This pelvic tilt will also protect your lower back in cobra pose. Keep your hips planted firmly on the mat and raise your navel no more than three inches off the ground.
- Roll your shoulders slightly back and down, to firm them against your back. Bend as evenly as possible through your lower, middle, and upper back.
- Breath and hold the pose.
- Exhale. Leave the pose incrementally. First, bend the arms slowly backwards. Lower the navel to the mat, then the chest, then the shoulders, and, lastly, the forehead.
Modifications and Props
Tucked Toes Modification. If pressing the tops of your feet into the mat puts strain on the muscles in your feet, tuck your toes instead of pointing them. Throughout the pose, press into the mat with your toes.
Baby Cobra Pose (Saral Bhujangasana). Baby cobra pose is a gentle variation that engages just the back muscles. In step five (above), raise the palms off the mat so they hover less than an inch above it. Lift the shoulders and chest using just the back (engage your thighs and abdomen to prevent compression) for a mini backbend.
Twisting Cobra Pose (Tiryaka Bhujangasana). Twisting cobra pose exercises the obliques and improves range of motion. Once you’ve assumed full cobra in step eight (above), inhale and look forward. Exhale and twist to the right, looking over your right shoulder towards your left heel. Inhale and come back to center. Exhale and twist to the opposite side. Repeat in tune with the rhythm of your breath.
Striking Cobra Pose (Ardha Ustrasana). Striking cobra pose is a dynamic variation that incorporates child’s pose (balasana). Since child’s pose is a counter pose to cobra, this dynamic sequence is incredibly beneficial. Once you’ve assumed full cobra in step eight (above), exhale and push back into child’s pose. Keep your palms stationary on the mat and your elbows bending backwards, not sideways. Inhale and “slither” low across the mat with elbows bent, back into cobra pose. Repeat in tune with the rhythm of your breath.
Follow your back bending pose with a forward bending counter pose. Transition from cobra pose into child’s pose (balasana), for example. After step nine (above), inhale off the mat into downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) and then exhale directly into child’s pose. Drop the chest and reach the arms forward to make the restive pose more of an active forward bend.
Cobra pose improves deep, rhythmic breathing. It keeps the spine supple and alleviates back pain. It stretches the abdominal muscles and organs, stimulating appetite and massaging the liver and kidneys.
Practitioners suffering from a peptic ulcer, hernia, intestinal tuberculosis, or hyperthyroidism should exercise caution when attempting cobra pose. People with these medical issues should find a knowledgeable, competent teacher to guide them through the pose.
Erector spinae. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles are closely linked with posture. The prime movers in cobra pose are the deep back muscles i.e. the erector spinae.
Trapezius muscle. The trapezius muscle extends from the back of the head down to the shoulder blade. It is partially responsible for the gross motor movements of the head and neck. When the practitioner firms the shoulder blades into the back in cobra pose, the trapezius muscle engages.
Abdominal muscles. The abdominals are located in the lower belly, between the ribs and the pelvis. They control the tilt of the pelvis and the curve of the lower spine. Engaging the transverse abdominis, which stabilize the spine, in cobra pose protects the lower back from dangerous compression.
Hamstrings. The hamstring muscles are the three long muscles that run along the back of the thigh. They extend the hip, flex the knee, and rotate the lower leg. In cobra pose, the hamstrings are the prime mover in the pose’s hip extension. When the hamstring muscles are weak, the gluteus maximus compensates. This minimizes the benefit of the internal rotation and hip extension, so make sure your gluteal muscles are not working hard in cobra.