Just like the king cobra raises his slinky upper body to look for food or to prepare for an imminent attack, we regularly try to get our human bodies into a very similar position during yoga practice.
Thankfully, we are not preparing ourselves for an attack, but we are in fact preparing our body for more intense backbend poses, such as Upward Facing Dog and Bow pose.
Cobra pose (bhujangasana in Sanskrit) is a very popular and uplifting pose, so let’s get into a bit more of the detail…
What are the benefits of Cobra pose?
When practiced in the right way, Cobra is a fantastic way to open up the chest and give the muscles in the front of your body a wholesome stretch. Not only that, but it is the perfect pose to focus on opening the heart chakra, growing in compassion and gaining a deeper connection with others around you.
The chest, the shoulders, and the abs should all benefit from the pose and it is a very handy way to counteract all the slouching we do at our desks and in the car!
By opening our chests, we also open our lungs, which can be beneficial for asthma sufferers, and if practised with caution, it can also offer pain release in the lower back for those experiencing sciatica.
What's the difference between Upward Facing Dog and Cobra pose?
Many people ask in class what the difference is between Cobra and Upward Facing Dog – and it’s clear why as they do appear very similar.
In essence, Cobra pose is a gentler alternative to Upward Facing Dog and is often practised as preparation for more intense backbends later on.
The main difference is that your legs and pelvis are lifted off the floor in Upward Facing Dog with straight arms to support your lower back. In Cobra, however, your feet, thighs, pelvis and lower abdomen remain on the floor with your elbows slightly bent by your sides.
So, how do I do it?
1. Start by lying on your tummy with your head facing down on your mat. Take the palms of your hands directly under each shoulder, keeping the elbows bent and tucked in close to your side.
2. Keeping your legs straight and tops of the feet pressed down onto the mat, press your palms town firmly into the ground, whilst slowly raising your chest upwards. Your breathe will be inhaling as you raise the chest. Lift up to a height that is comfortable, and that isn’t pinching your lower back in any way.
3. Keep a slight bend in your elbows and make sure they are always neatly tucked in towards your torso.
4. Relax your lower back and focus on relieving any tension here.
5. Your gaze should be forward (not up) and keep the back of the neck nice and long, shoulders away from the ears.
6. As you exhale, slowly lower the chest down back towards your mat and then rest your head down on one side to relax.
7. Once you are comfortable in the posture, try holding for two to three breaths with the chest raised before lowering back down.
Is Cobra pose right for me?
Although Cobra pose looks simple enough, it does require care and attention as it involves a backbend.
It’s important not to overdo the backbend and to find a height at which you can remain peacefully for a few breaths without straining your back.
Those who have previous back or shoulder injuries should really consult their GP first before trying out the pose in a group yoga lesson.
Equally, as pressure is put on the wrists and hands, you should be wary if you have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Cobra pose (and backbends in general) should always be avoided during pregnancy because of the pressure put on the tummy area.
Fancy a go?