How to do the Salamba Bhujangasana Pose
- Begin lying on your stomach on the mat with your head resting on your chin.
- Point your toes and spread your feet hip distance apart. Press down into the mat with the tops of your feet.
- Scoop your tailbone toward your navel to bring your hips and thighs firmly against the mat. Internally rotate your upper legs by turning the tops of your thighs in towards each other. The pelvic tilt and internal rotation will help protect your lower back from strain during backbending.
- Bend your elbows and plant them shoulder distance apart, close to your chest. Position your forearms parallel to one another and to the centerline of your body. Spread your fingers. Plant your forearms, palms, and fingers firmly into the mat.
- Inhale. Lift your chest off the mat, rolling your shoulder blades together and down to open the heart.
- Rest your gaze on a point directly in front of you.
- Breath and hold the pose.
- Exhale and lower your chest to the mat. Release your hands by your sides.
Modifications and Props
Cushion your elbows. To protect your elbow joints and make the pose deeper, place a folded blanket or fold the mat over under your chest in step one (above).
Bolster your chest. A bolster takes weight off the arms for a more relaxing pose. In step seven (above), slide your arms forward and place a bolster under your arms. Lower your chest until you’re resting your armpits on the bolster.
Look down. To stretch the muscles in the back of your neck (the trapezius), turn your gaze gently downward in step six (above).
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Yogis often consider sphinx yoga pose an easier variation of cobra pose. Sphinx pose is even sometimes called “easy cobra” pose instead of “sphinx.” To do cobra, in step four (above), raise the elbows straight up and plant your palms on the outside of your chest. In step five, lift up onto your hands, straightening your elbows.
Seal Pose. This yin yoga variation of cobra pose works the same muscle groups as sphinx, but is a more intense backbend and chest opener. In step four (above), place your hands next to your chest, mat distance apart. Turn your fingers outwards. Plant your palms and fingers firmly into the floor. In step five, straighten your elbows as you lift up.
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 sphinx yoga pose are the deep back muscles i.e. the erector spinae, which the pose strengthens.
Trapezius muscles. The trapezius muscles extend from the back of the head down to the shoulder blades. They are partially responsible for the gross motor movements of the head and neck. When the shoulder blades roll together and down in sphinx pose, the trapezius muscles engage and strengthen.
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 sphinx 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 clenched in sphinx.
Gluteal muscles. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. To tone the glutes, avoid clenching the buttocks in sphinx pose. The gluteal muscles should be firmed, but not hardened.
Triceps brachii. The triceps brachii is the large muscle on the back of the upper arm responsible for straightening it. Push exercises, like planks and push-ups, build tricep bulk. Resting on the elbows in sphinx pose gently strengthens the tricep muscles.
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. Sphinx yoga pose gently stretches the abdominal muscles, particularly in conjunction with the pelvic tilt.
Interested in a more advanced yoga move? Check out the plow pose for beginners.
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