Yoga Tutorial: How to Do Sphinx Pose
Sphinx Pose is the baby of backbends and, as its Sanskrit name (Salamba Bhujangasana or Supported Cobra Pose) implies, a milder variation of the Cobra Pose.
Sphinx Pose is great to incorporate into your yoga practice, especially if, like me, you aren’t on the best of terms with backbends. For a long time, I brushed this posture off as too simple or basic, but over time I learned to appreciate its benefits.
Sphinx Pose Basics
Type: prone, backbend
Stretches: chest, shoulders, and abdomen
Strengthens: upper body
The Sphinx is a wonderful yoga pose to open the upper body and gain more strength and mobility in the mid-back and the thoracic spine.
Those with less back flexibility tend to bend in the lower back in backends because this area of the back opens up first. However, it places lots of strain on it and puts it at a higher risk of compression or injury.
In order to master backbends without messing up your lower back, you need to learn how to lengthen and open the mid-section of the spine. It is a lot more challenging as it’s the part where the ribs attach. Because of this, as well as our predominantly sedentary lifestyle, it takes time for the muscles to gain mobility.
Luckily for us yogis with more stubborn backs, there is the Sphinx Pose, which, if practiced properly, teaches our mid-back muscles how to bend and contract.
The extra length and flexibility in the shoulders and the thoracic spine also help to improve posture, alleviate back stiffness, and create a healthy curve in the lower back.
How to Do Sphinx Pose in Yoga
- Lay on your stomach with your chin on the mat, arms by your sides, and feet together or a tiny bit apart if that feels more comfortable.
- Tuck your tailbone under and draw your belly button in. Your belly button should lift off the mat.
- Engage your legs by lifting the kneecaps, and rotate your thighs inwards to create length in the lower back.
- Place your elbows under your shoulders and prop yourself on your forearms. Position your forearms parallel to each other with your hands on the mat. You can also hold your hands together if that’s easier on your shoulders.
- Inhale as you lift your head and chest.
- Pull your shoulders back and down. Soften your jaw. Look ahead of you.
- Stay in Sphinx Pose for several breaths to a few minutes. Lengthen the spine when you inhale and push your chest forward when you exhale.
- To release the pose, exhale as you lower your upper body, rest your arms by your sides with palms facing up and place the side of your head or your chin on the mat.
Modifications and Variations
- If you feel that you can go deeper, try Baby or Full Cobra Pose.
- You can position your feet wider if you feel more stable and comfortable this way.
- Focus on engaging your lower belly, pressing the pubic bone down, and engaging your legs.
- Relax your glutes or keep them slightly engaged.
- If you’re new to yoga or backbends are your true nemesis, you can use a rolled-up towel or a folded blanket under your hips to lift up your belly and make the Sphinx even more accessible. That will also give extra support for your lower back and create an easier back curve. Roll up a towel or fold a blanket, and place it in between your pubic bone and hip bones. You can also arrange the towel in a U-shape with the curve toward your pubic bone and rest the sides of your tummy on the sides of the towel. See what works better for you.
- The Sphinx is a great pose to integrate into your Yin Yoga practice.
- If you’d like to do some additional work on your back flexibility, you can simply get in the Sphinx Pose for a few minutes a day in addition to your usual yoga practice. You can even do it while you watch a movie, read a book, or go through your Instagram feed. It’s not the most mindful approach, but it will get you there faster. Check back on your alignment from time to time if you get too distracted.
Contraindications and Risks
Skip the pose if you’ve had a back injury, recent abdominal surgery, as well as during pregnancy.