Feel the Wheel
The first pose of the sequence requires spinal flexibility as well as strength, a combination that makes it more challenging than it appears. Before moving into Cobra Pose, try a variation (not pictured) that will help you isolate the action of the spine: Lie face-down on your mat with your feet hip-width apart and your forehead on the floor. Stretch your arms forward shoulder-width apart with your palms facing each other, pinkies on the floor. Look at your nose, keeping your eyes steady. Also consider practicing with your eyes closed so that you can guide the pose from within. Steady breathing is critical to avoid overstimulating the nerves. Breathe with your mouth closed, keeping a 1:1 ratio between your inhalations and exhalations with a steady whisper in the base of the throat.
Direct the pubis and tailbone toward your feet, sending a flow of movement through the legs like water through a pipe to ground your legs and lighten your torso. Keeping your arms outstretched and your pinkies on the floor, breathe in, raising your head and chest off the floor. Now breathe out, drawing your lower belly in and up to deepen the backbend and stabilize the lumbar spine. The action of the backbend will slide your hands toward you. Isolate your attention to the arc of circular energy, then exhale as you raise your arms parallel to the floor. Enhance the arch of your thoracic spine by expanding your chest, lifting your sternum, and pulling the side ribs forward and up. Keep your gaze steady and your head upright. Hold for three to five breaths, then release the pose and rest your head on your hands. Repeat one or two more times to imprint the sensations of a circular spinal movement in your memory. Now you are ready for Cobra Pose.
Place your hands, palms down, under your shoulders, bringing your elbows near your ribs. From here proceed as you did in the variation, step by step: Press the pubis and tailbone to the mat, lengthening them away from the navel to tether the spine to the legs. Inhaling, curl the head and chest off the floor; exhale as you draw the lower abdomen in and up, keeping the breath and gaze steady as you look straight ahead. As the backbend peaks, engage the arms by pushing your shoulders back and down until your elbows are almost straight. Feel how your arms support and deepen the backbend. However —important! —working the arms is not the primary action; active spinal extension is. So, continue to curl the upper back into a spinal wheel with each inhalation and draw the belly in and up with each exhalation. Take advantage of the arms, though; their support will allow you to release excess tension in your back muscles, which opens the door to greater flexibility. When you're ready for a deeper movement, exhale as you press the shoulders back and down and straighten the arms.
Notice how steady breathing helps free the spine and sustain the pose. Holding Cobra reveals the dynamic process of refinement. If you hurry through the pose, you'll miss it. Stay with the process as long as your breath is steady and you feel the pose growing, then rest your head on your hands for a minute before repeating it two more times. On the final Cobra, take your head back, pulling the base of your skull toward your tailbone. With the tailbone securely anchored, imagine yourself looping your spine around a ball to join the head and the pubic bone. Continue lifting your sternum and side ribs, chasing your head as it descends. Draw the inner shoulder blades down the back to deepen the backbend in your upper spine.
After your last Cobra Pose, rest in Balasana (Child's Pose), until your breathing has relaxed to an easy rhythm.!--page-->