Yoga Tutorial: How To Do Cobra Pose

A cousin of the Upward Dog, the Cobra Pose, or Bhujangasana in Sanskrit, is a backend. Depending on the variation you take, it can range from subtle and basic to deep and advanced.

Because of this versatility, this Cobra Pose serves as preparation and practice for yoga poses that require greater back flexibility.   

Cobra Pose Basics

Level: beginner

Type: prone, backbend

Stretches: chest, shoulders, abdomen, thighs, and hip flexors

Strengthens: upper back, shoulders, arms, and legs

Gaze: ahead of you or up

Benefits

Cobra Pose is beneficial for those who lead a sedentary lifestyle or have a poor posture. It strengthens and opens up the upper body and stretches hip flexors, which tend to be tight if you spend lots of time sitting at a desk, driving, or doing similar activities.

Increased flexibility of the spine and in the hip area can soothe sciatica pain. Cobra Pose also stretches the abdominal area allowing more room for the internal organs and can decrease stiffness in the back, neck, and shoulders.

How to Do Cobra Pose in Yoga

  1. Lay down on your stomach with your forehead on the mat, your feet hip-distance apart, and the tops of your feet on the mat.
  2. Place your hands under your shoulders, with your fingers spread and pointing toward the front edge of your mat. Hug your elbows into your body.
  3. Engage your lower belly, lift your kneecaps, and press your pubic bone, thighs, and tops of your feet into the mat.
  4. On the next inhalation, lift your head and chest off the mat. (This is called Baby or Low Cobra.)
  5. Start straightening your arms, and lift your navel off the floor. Keep your pubis on the mat, and go only as far as your body allows. (Also known as Full or High Cobra.)
  6. Open the chest and roll your shoulders back and down.
  7. Tilt your head back and look up. If there is tension or pain in the neck, look straight ahead of you.  
  8. Hold the posture for three or more breaths.

Modifications and Variations

  • There are two variations for the Cobra Pose: Baby or Low Cobra and Full or High Cobra.
    • To do Baby Cobra, lift your head and chest off the mat without the help of your hands. (That is Step 4 in the instructions above.) Your belly button stays on the floor and you should be placing barely any weight on your hands. Use them as support only and experiment by lifting your palms off the floor. In Baby Cobra, you should be able to hold yourself up without your hands. This option is known as Unsupported Baby Cobra. Gaze ahead of you, and hold the pose for three or more breaths. Release, and either repeat or do Full Cobra next.
    • For Full Cobra, use your hands to press yourself up higher and lift your navel up. (Step 5 in the instructions above.) Go as high as you can without compressing your lower back or lifting your pubic bone off the mat. Draw your shoulders away from your ears, and press your chest forward. Gaze up if your neck feels comfortable or ahead of you if it feels better, and stay in the pose for three or more breaths.
  • For a deeper chest and shoulder stretch, Wide Arm Cobra is a variation you can try. Place your hands wider than your mat and in line with your chest, point your elbows to the sky, lift your palms, and rise up on your fingertips.
  • If you’re still working on your back flexibility or have wrist issues, Sphinx Pose can be an easier alternative to Cobra Pose.
  • Though, if your backbend game is strong, try King Cobra Pose. In this variation, you bend your knees and reach your toes toward your head.
  • You can also experiment by doing a variation of Cobra Pose against the wall or using a chair.

Tips

  • You shouldn’t be forcing yourself into a backbend. Your back should look like an arch rather than a sharp letter “L”. If you feel any tension, pain, or lower back compression, slowly back off.
  • Avoid jamming your neck, aim for a natural arch or look ahead of you instead.
  • In Full Cobra, your arms don’t have to be straight. Keep your elbows bent, if necessary.
  • Don’t let your elbows sway to the sides, hold them tucked into your sides.
  • Either relax your glutes or keep them firm. Avoid squeezing them all the way as that may cause compression in the lower back.
  • Your hips shouldn’t lift off the mat. Make sure your pelvic bone and hips stay on the mat. Cobra Pose is sort of a close cousin of the Upward Dog Pose, which does involve raising your hips. Check that out as well to differentiate between both postures.
  • You may see some people holding their feet together in Cobra Pose. While that’s all right for Baby Cobra, position your feet hip-width distance apart in Full Cobra to avoid unnecessary pressure on the lower back.
  • The lumbar spine or lower back tends to be undeveloped, so take your time with this pose and do it in stages. Start by lengthening in Sphinx or Baby Cobra (or both) and then gently and gradually work your way toward Full Cobra Pose.
  • Fry a gentle Cobra Flow. Rise up on the inhales and lower on the exhales. Repeat that for three to five times. You can hold Cobra Pose after the last inhale and turn your head to the right side and then to the left to stretch the neck muscles.

Contraindications and Risks

Avoid the pose in case of back, arm, or wrist injury, conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, after recent abdominal surgery, as well as during pregnancy.

How to do Cobra Pose in Yoga instructions

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