asana - cobra
Cobra: Coiling your upper body up and back.

Bhujaṅgāsana, or the Cobra, is practiced as the first in the series of backward-bending exercises. When this āsana is fully done, it gives the appearance of a hooded cobra. “Bhujaṅg” means cobra in Sanskrit. We practice the āsana in stages, visualizing the smooth, supple movement of a snake as we stretch the spine up and backward, vertebra by vertebra. Major benefits of this āsana is that it works, massages, and tones the back muscles, particularly in the lumbar region. The arching of the spine also increases flexibility, rejuvenates spinal nerves, and provides a rich blood supply.

Objective: Provide the spine a powerful backward stretch.

Step 1 – Face Down

Lie on your front. When you are fully relaxed, begin to come into the Cobra. Still lying on your front, place your hands flat on the floor so that they are directly underneath your shoulders. Next lift your head up a little and bend your neck, then lower your forehead to the ground.

Step 2 – Roll Up

Inhale, slowly rolling up and back. First bring your forehead up so that your nose rests on the floor, then continue rolling up and back. Move slowly, so that you feel each vertebra arching back.

Step 3 – Hold

Hold the pose for 10 to 60 seconds. Slowly roll down, keeping your head back until last. As you do the Cobra, make sure you are not overextending the lower back. No pain should be felt in the lower back. You may want to repeat it two more times.

The Advanced Cobra – Variations

Once you are proficient in the above steps, you can attempt some variations.

•    In the Cobra, turn your head to look over your right shoulder, trying to see your left heel. Hold for about 10 seconds, then return your head to the center and repeat while looking over the other shoulder.
•    From the starting position, lift your hands off the ground and roll your body up using only your back muscles.
•    Always return to a resting position on your abdomen after these poses.
•    With practice you may be able to attempt the “King Cobra” variation in which your feet touch your head.

For Further Reading

•   The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga
•   Sivananda Companion Book of Yoga