How to Do Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman in low cobra yoga pose
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 in the Vinyasa sequence for beginners. But it is also a powerful little 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 straighten the arms. It's really not a superior pose and is actually inferior in some ways. Yes, it's a deeper backbend, but it is also more dependent on the arms for support instead of the working to strengthen the back muscles.

Benefits

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.

Step-by-Step Instructions

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. The gaze stays on the floor.
  5. Exhale to release back to the floor (or push back to Downward Facing Dog in you are doing a Sun Salutation).

Common Mistakes

Keeping your shoulders down is important. If your hands are too far away from your body the resulting angle will bring your shoulders up. Locking your elbows will also raise your shoulders. Instead, be sure your elbows are unlocked, or even slightly bent, and pointed backward and not out to your sides. This is a move that relies on your back muscles, not your arm muscles.

The lower back is often more flexible than the upper back and so you might end up with more flex in that area (an L rather than a C). Aim to keep the curve even for the whole back instead.

Don't overextend your neck backward. While it will be arched, it should be in a natural extension of the upper spine.

Modifications and Variations

Do You Need a Modification?

Strongly engaging the legs and pressing them down will help you bring your chest higher.

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.

First, 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. Then 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.

Up for a Challenge?

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

2. Keep the palms on the floor and start to straighten the arms for a more intense backbend. Make sure that you keep your shoulders down away from your ears as you straighten the arms. It's OK to keep a slight bend in your arms in the full pose.

Safety and Precautions

Cobra Pose should not be done 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:

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