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Cobra Pose

By providing a conscious opening in the chest and stretch in the shoulders, Cobra Pose, called Bhujangasana in Sanskrit, fights fatigue and relieves lower back pain, boosting both the energetic and the physical body.


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Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) is a heart-opening backbend that allows you to stretch your entire upper body. You cau adjust the intensity of the backbend by straightening or bending your elbows to suit your needs.

This pose is typically practiced early in class as a warm-up and precursor to more intense backbends, including Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) and Ustrasana (Camel)

Bhujanga, the Sanskrit word for snake, is derived from the root bhuj, which means “to bend or curve.” The king cobra, revered in Indian myths, can glide forward while lifting the upper third of its body upright. When you practice Cobra Pose, try to emulate this animal’s powerful yet fluid motion when you practice. Imagine your legs as the snake’s tail, reaching long behind you as you curve your spine to lift your chest majestically.

Cobra can help you set a strong foundation for more complex backbends like Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow Pose) by teaching you how to properly engage your legs, pelvis, and abdominal muscles.

“When Cobra is done correctly, your legs provide the power and support for your spine to gracefully extend, and your pelvis and belly act together to decompress and support your lower back, which has a tendency to overarch,” says Crandell.

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Sanskrit

Bhujangasana (boo-jang-GAHS-anna)

bhujanga = serpent, snake

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Cobra Pose Basics

Pose Type: Backbend

Targets: Core

Benefits: 

Cobra Pose stretches your abdomen and strengthens around your shoulders, arms, and back muscles. It can improve your posture and counteract the effects of slouching, prolonged computer work, and kyphosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)

Learn more about finding alignment and balancing effort with ease in this pose in Cobra Pose: The Complete Guide for Students and Teachers. You’ll access expert insights from top teachers—including anatomy know-how, variations, and more—on this and other poses when you become a member. It’s a resource you’ll return to again and again.

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How to do Cobra Pose

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  1. Begin on your belly with your feet hip-distance apart and your hands beside your ribs.
  2. Extend your big toes straight back and press down with all ten toenails to activate your quadriceps.
  3. Rotate your inner thighs toward the ceiling to broaden the lower back.
  4. Pressing down lightly with your hands, start to lift your head and chest, rolling your shoulders back and down.
  5. Keep the back of your neck long and focus on lifting your sternum instead of lifting your chin.
  6. Straighten your arms while keeping your shoulders remaining away from your ears. Keep at least a slight bend in your elbows.
  7. To exit the pose, release back to your mat.
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Beginner tips

If you feel any discomfort or compression in the lower back, don’t come up as high in the pose. Focus instead on creating strength in the upper back, between the shoulder blades. You can also take your feet wider than hip-distance apart.

If you have the flexibility in your armpits, chest, and groins, you can move into a deeper backbend: Walk your hands a little farther forward and straighten your elbows, turning your arms outward. Lift the top of your sternum toward the ceiling.

If you feel compression in your lower back, try Sphinx Pose instead: Rest your forearms on the floor with your elbows under your shoulders. To create space in your chest, press your elbows down, reach your heart up, and draw your shoulder blades away from your ears.

Be mindful!

When moving into Cobra Pose, only extend your arms to the point where you can evenly distribute the sensation through your back.

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Teacher tips

These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:

  • If you feel compression in your low back, try Sphinx Pose: Rest the forearms on the floor with the elbows under the shoulders. To create space in the chest, press the elbows down, reach the heart up, and draw the shoulder blades away from the ears.
  • Squeezing your buttocks can compress your lower back, so keep them relaxed. Roll your inner thighs up to lengthen your tailbone back.
  • To make more space for your spine to arch, place your hands a few inches farther forward.
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Variations

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Cobra with support underneath your hips

Place a folded blanket under your hips to take some of the pressure out of your lower back. If you feel any pinching or pain in your lower back, widen the distance between your feet, which creates more space in your hips and pelvis.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Cobra against a wall

Stand facing a wall with your feet a foot or so away from the wall. Bend your elbows, keeping them pressed firmly against your torso, and press your hands into the wall. Lift your chin slightly, and arch your back into a backbend.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Cobra in a chair

Sit in a chair with your hands on your lap. Come into a gentle backbend by pressing your chest forward and lifting your chin slightly. Bring your gaze slightly up and ahead.

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Why we love this pose

“Sitting at a desk all day wreaks havoc on the back, and wrecks posture, too,”  says Yoga Journal Senior Editor Tamara Jeffries. “Cobra is a gentle, but definitive back bend. Mindfully done—with the shoulders down and the heart forward—it reminds my body of what good posture feels like. I also appreciate it as an alternative to Upward Facing Dog when my practice needs less intensity.”

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Preparatory and counter poses

Preparatory poses

Counter poses

Put Cobra Pose into practice