Full name: BHUJANGASANA = COBRA POSE
Bhujanga = snake or cobra*
Asana = pose
* The direct Sanskrit translation of bhujanga is snake. However, as cobras are common in India, and the form of bhujangasana is said to look like a cobra with a flared hood, it is translated as cobra for the position in yoga.
Why You Should Practise Bhujangasana
Cobra pose, or a variation of it, shows up multiple times in basically every flow and power class, as the backbend pose in Surya Namaskar and vinyasas. Even if you are used to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog), there is no solid Up-Dog without learning the principles of spinal extension in cobra pose first. And if you decide to give Ashtanga a whirl, trust me when I say that you want that solid back bending foundation when it comes to the 60 odd times you vinyasa during the Primary series. Not only will cobra pose serve you well in your yoga practice, but the bhujangasana benefits extend well beyond the mat when it comes to improving your physical posture.
Need more asana instructions? Check out my Trikonasana guide.
- Lie down on your front, with your forehead on the mat, your elbows bent and hands pressed into the mat, and legs extended behind you.
- Fine-tune your arm alignment: bring the arms in close to the body so they lightly touch the rib cage. Adjust your hands so your thumbs roughly line up with your nipples (the further back the hands are the more your upper back has to work). Spread your fingers wide and push the palms and pads of the fingers firmly into the mat.
- Push the tops of your feet into the mat and gently engage your core.
- Baby cobra steps (Ardha Bhujangasana): On an inhale, draw the shoulder blades further down the back and lift the spine up by only engaging the muscles of your upper back (this won’t be very much) into a small backbend. Make sure your core stays engaged and your collarbones are broadening as your heart lifts and opens.
- Hold for 3+ breaths. Exhale, release back down to the mat.
- Bhujangasana steps: Come into baby cobra. Then start to push into your hands and lengthen the arms so you can lift up higher. This will deepen your backbend through the mid-back and lower back too. Only lengthen the arms as much as is comfortable, and even if you can straighten the arms completely keep a slight bend in the elbows.
- Check the shoulders are drawing away from the ears, down the back. If your shoulders are hunching towards your ears, this is a sign you have come too high and the muscles around your shoulders and upper back are tight/underactive and could do with some more baby cobra TLC.
- Find a comfortable position for the neck: this can be looking forward, slightly up, head tipped back, or down at the mat if you have neck issues.
- As you inhale, bring the breath up to your collar bones and feel the whole upper torso broaden and expand. As you exhale, keep the lift of your torso as you engage your core.
- Stay for 3+ breaths.
- Release down to the mat on an exhale.
Benefits of Bhujangasana
- Great for upper back mobility, which helps with posture and counterbalances the desk life hunchback (my favourite of all the cobra pose benefits!)
- Builds whole spine mobility. Mobility is what we want as it means health, strength AND flexibility, which prevents injuries.
- Opens the chest to improve breathing and posture
- Provides a gentle hip flexor stretch
- Foundational pose for deeper backbends
Bhujangasana Tips, Tricks and Variations
It’s Alllllll About the Upper Back
One of my favourite things to look for in bhujangasana images on social media is to see who is actually using the muscles of their upper back and who is being lazy and relying on the natural flexibility on their lower back. Whereas our upper back curves forward, our lower back naturally bends back –– which means when it comes to back bending, too many people dump into their lower backs. Finding a backbend in the upper back is so good for improving posture and spine health and is the major benefit of back bending poses.
Upper Back Mobility Exercises:
– Baby cobra concentrates on the upper back and therefore teaches you how to engage your thoracic spine. Challenge yourself in your baby cobra by hovering your hands off the mat (this will also improve core strength!).
– Traction your hands back when you are in the pose. To do this, create the action of pulling your hands backwards without letting them move. You will feel the muscles of your upper back engage more.
– This prep exercise really helps to turn on the muscles of the upper back. Lie down flat on your front and bring your arms into a cactus position. Keep your forehead down on the mat and, keeping your arms in their cactus position, hover the arms off the mat. How high you can lift the arms will indicate how mobile or stiff your upper back is.
To Squeeze or Not to Squeeze the Glutes?
Squeezing your butt in backbends is one of those ridiculous yoga debates that people feel really strongly about when the reality is it is a completely personal preference. If it feels right for you then do it, if you don’t like it don’t.
Don’t Forget About Your Feet or Core
Keeping the core engaged and the tops of the feet pushing into the mat will make all that back bending action so much easier.
Bhujangasana naturally slots into sun salutations, but you can also practice it by itself. Sequence it in the first part of your practice to awaken your spine in preparation for deeper backbends and twisting poses.
That is everything you need to get started with cobra pose, let me know how you get on with bhujangasana in your yoga practice!