Cobra PoseBujangasana exemplifies the effort of the upper back in back bending.
As a precursor to Upward Facing Dog, Cobra is the first backbend many of us practice. Maybe it’s just a warm-up, or perhaps we use it as a foundation pose of “the vinyasa”. It is practiced in abundance and across the spectrum of yoga styles. I’m concerned, however, about HOW it is practiced.
I see students in class with their hands under their shoulders and pushing the heart up and back, using all the strength in their arms to get higher and higher, tipping their heads back at break-neck angles…their legs straining as their feet push down into their mat and their Glutes squeezing every last drop of energy out of their poor little tailbones. Meanwhile, their vertebrae are mashed together and jam into the brick wall of the clenched Gluteus Maximus, and they wonder why they have back pain later.
What if you could practice a Cobra that felt truly liberating for your spine, your heart and your breath? What if you could feel the muscles of your back body work together from top to tail in an integrated fashion, so that your arms weren’t even needed, and your legs were active without your Glutes needing to be in a death-grip on your sacrum, and your breath was free flowing and the word “straining” never ever crossed your mind? What if…
I think you can do it, having done it myself, but you may need to rethink a few basic principles before you get started. Cobra is a back bend, not a back break. The object is to create the longest, smoothest curve you can from the base of the spine to the base of the skull. There is nothing good that can come from a spine that breaks in two at its most mobile point, only degeneration and dysfunction. Boo. So if your spinal muscles aren’t strong enough (yet) to hold the length and the height of your Cobra, using your arms to lever yourself up is not actually serving your growth, it’s crushing your spine. I urge you to build the strength slowly over many Cobra poses to find the most integral version you can. That said, the arms CAN help you in this pose, but you’ll need to place the hands precisely and engage the arms properly to integrate them into the back bending muscles.
Also, the Glutes clenching the edges of your sacrum will not help stabilize your low back. That’s a myth that is being slowly dispelled by those in the know regarding basic biomechanics. Let’s be clear. You’re doing a back bend, and even a neutral lumbar curve IS a back bend, but clenching your glutes flattens that curve…that opposes the intention of the posture. I think it makes more sense to help support the back bend that already exists in the lumbar spine.
So to these ends, I offer you the following cues to test and taste and freely experiment with. Please let me know if you have any questions.