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Asana of the Month: 03
Bhujangasana ~ Cobra Pose

EAGLE Done carefully, this basic backbend is a wonderfully energizing pose.It opens the chest and shoulders, stretches the thigh, front hip and abdominal muscles, stimulates the kidneys, thyroid and adrenals, increases lung capacity, and tones the digestive and reproductive systems. It's a great preparation for more strenuous backbends - and it feels great. Done too aggressively, though, cobra can really put a crimp in your back. So take your time, and like the snake it's named after, wait for the right moment to strike before you do the pose fully.

Images by Nancy Van Kanegan
senior teacher at the Chicago Yoga Center
No use without written permission

Practice Tips:

The following will guide you safely into and out of cobra pose. For more on this asana, I recommend Erich Schiffmann's discussion of it in his book, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, and Sandra Anderson's article about it in the October/November 1997 issue of Yoga International.

Lie prone with the hands underneath your shoulders, your forehead resting on the mat, and your feet hips width apart. Starting with the toes, hug the muscles of the feet and legs to the bones and draw the muscular energy up the legs into the center of the pelvis. Keeping that energy flowing up, extend energy down from the pelvis through the bones, stretching back through the toes as if you wanted to reach something just beyond their reach. Root your tailbone down and in to pin the pubic bone to the floor - and keep it there. Rooting the tailbone down and in is key to doing this or any other backbend safely.

Lift the shoulders up from the floor and roll them back towards the hips. Keep the elbows stretching in and back. As you inhale, pull slightly down and back with the hands to pull the sternum forward and up. Stretch out through top of the head and back and down through the toes as you lift. Keep bringing the spine in, the shoulders rolling up, the chest puffing forward, and the shoulder blades sliding down toward the hips. Use mainly the back muscles at first to come up, not the hands and arms. With the exhale, stretch forward and down through the top of the head and back through the toes as you come back down to rest the forehead on the mat. Repeat up and down three or four more times.

Then come up and hold, keeping the legs strong, the tailbone in, the pubic bone pressing down, and the heart lifting forward and up. If you back feels ok, you can begin to gently press down and back with the hands to bring the chest more forward and up. But if you begin to feel any pinching or strain in the lower back, ease off or come out of the pose. Try to bring the curve as much into the upper back as the lower back, so the heart center is the apex of the arc. Keep the pubic bone in contact with the floor at all times, and work with the breath - stretching forward with the sternum and back with the toes on the inhales, digging the tailbone down and lifting the heart up on the exhales.

Gradually, you can bring the hands back more towards the hips before you come up into the pose and straighten the arms. This will increase the curve on the back and the intensity of the pose. Alternatively, you can take the hands forward a bit in front of the shoulders to straighten the arms and help keep the shoulders rolling up and back without stressing the lower back. And you can stretch up and back through the top of the head to take the chin up and gaze at the sky through your third eye between the eyebrows. Another way to intensify the pose is to bring the feet and legs together before you go up in it, stretching back through the inner heels as well as the toes, and resisting the shins toward the floor.

After any version you do, slowly lift up to hands and knees then back to child's pose for the counter stretch. Go easily, giving your lower back time to open up as you lower the sitting bones toward the hips and stretchthe tailbone back. Rest your forehead on stacked hands, on the floor with the arms relaxed in front or alongside the head, or back by the heels with the palms up. Breathe fully, exhanling through the lower back to loosen it up, and coil back down like a snake at rest.

Text by Tim Noworyta
senior teacher at the
Chicago Yoga Center

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