How to Do Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Back

Level: Beginner

Cobra is most often done as part of a Sun Salutation. It's the alternative to Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana) in the Vinyasa sequence for beginners. But it is also a powerful backbend in its own right, so it's worth taking some time to work on this pose in isolation.

Cobra done with the arms bent is sometimes called Baby Cobra. If you straighten your arms, that's Full Cobra, but don't be in a hurry to graduate to this.

How to Do Cobra Pose

If you're in the middle of a Sun Salutation, you'll be coming into Cobra from Knees, Chest, and Chin. If not, you can begin by lying down flat on your stomach.

  1. Place your palms flat on the ground directly under your shoulders. Bend your elbows straight back and hug them into your sides.
  2. Pause for a moment looking straight down at your mat with your neck in a neutral position. Anchor your pubic bone to the floor.
  3. Inhale to lift your chest off the floor. Roll your shoulders back and keep your low ribs on the floor. Make sure your elbows continue hugging your sides. Don't let them wing out to either side.
  4. Keep your neck neutral. Don’t crank it up. Your gaze should stay on the floor.

Exhale to release back to the floor (or push back to Downward Facing Dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana, if you are doing a Sun Salutation).

Benefits of Cobra Pose

Cobra Pose increases the mobility of the spine, strengthens spinal support muscles, and can help relieve back pain. It opens the chest and the front of the body. This can be particularly helpful if you sit for a lot of the day. Sitting leads to tight chest muscles and stretched, weakened back muscles. Cobra can counteract that hunched-over posture.

Research shows that Hatha yoga, which includes practicing cobra pose twice weekly, can reduce symptoms of mild depression. Yoga is a mind-body exercise that can help you relax and get into a parasympathetic state instead of a stressed flight or flight (sympathetic) state.

Research shows that two 90-minute classes per week can lead to improved outcomes for those who've had breast cancer. Yoga, including cobra pose, may help reduce inflammation and boost mood in breast cancer survivors.

Practicing cobra pose during yoga may also improve your sleep, especially if you are post-menopausal when sleep is notoriously challenging. Research backs the use of yoga even over aerobic activity for boosting sleep.

Other Variations of Cobra Pose

You can perform this exercise in different ways to meet your skill level and goals.

Cobra With Lift

If you feel like you've never really understood how to lift your chest higher in this pose, here's a little exercise to help you get in touch with your back muscles. Strongly engaging the legs and pressing them down will help you bring your chest higher.

  1. Make sure that your pelvis and legs are firmly rooted into the floor. They act as the anchor that allows your upper body to rise.
  2. Come in and out of the pose three times, lifting the chest up on every inhale and lowering it back to the floor on every exhale. As you go through this undulation, see if you can lift up a little high each time you inhale.

Do this exercise regularly as part of your home practice and see how your relationship to Cobra changes over time.

Hands Free Cobra

Keeping the chest high, take all the weight out of your hands until you can hover the palms above the floor.

You can also try keeping the palms on the floor and straightening the arms for a more intense backbend. Make sure that you keep your shoulders down away from your ears as you do this. It's OK to keep a slight bend in your arms in the full pose.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these common mistakes when doing cobra pose to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Not Aligned Properly

Keeping your hands aligned underneath your shoulders is essential. If your hands are too far from your body, the resulting angle will bring your shoulders up by your ears.

Locking Out Arms

Also, be sure not to straighten your arms so much that your elbows are locked. Feel free to slightly bend the elbows or keep the arms at 90 degrees. Elbows should be pointed backward and not out to your sides. This move relies on your back muscles, not your arm muscles.

Incorrect Flexion and Extension

The lower back is often more flexible than the upper back, so that you might have more flex in that area. Aim to keep the curve even for the whole back. Don't overextend your neck backward. While it will be arched, it should be a natural extension of the upper spine.

Safety and Precautions

You should not do Cobra Pose if you have carpal tunnel syndrome or an injury to your back, arms, or shoulders. Also, avoid it if you recently had abdominal surgery or are pregnant.

If you feel any strain on your lower back, relax the pose to lower yourself a bit or release down to rest on your forearms.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Telles S, Bhardwaj AK, Gupta RK, Sharma SK, Monro R, Balkrishna A. A randomized controlled trial to assess pain and magnetic resonance imaging-based (Mri-based) structural spine changes in low back pain patients after yoga practice. Med Sci Monit. 2016;22:3228-3247. doi:10.12659%2FMSM.896599

  2. Prathikanti S, Rivera R, Cochran A, Tungol JG, Fayazmanesh N, Weinmann E. Treating major depression with yoga: A prospective, randomized, controlled pilot trial. Subramanian SK, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(3):e0173869. doi:10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0173869

  3. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Bennett JM, Andridge R, et al. Yoga’s impact on inflammation, mood, and fatigue in breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial. JCO. 2014;32(10):1040-1049. doi:10.1200%2FJCO.2013.51.8860

  4. Ebrahimi M, Guilan-Nejad TN, Pordanjani AF. Effect of yoga and aerobics exercise on sleep quality in women with Type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. Sleep Science. 2017;10(2):68-72. doi:10.5935%2F1984-0063.20170012

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.