Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana): Relieve Back Pain

 

When I first saw someone do Cobra pose on a yoga video, I thought it would be something that would cause back pain, not fix it. However, I soon discovered that when I engaged the right muscles, Cobra pose (Bhujangasana) helped me find back pain relief. The trick is to create openness through the thoracic spine (the spine on the rib cage) while you stabilize the lumbar spine (low back) with your abdominals.

For those who have a tight spine like myself, there are even modifications that can help you strengthen and open your spine so you can come in to a full Cobra pose later. Let’s begin with the modification.

Modification for Cobra Pose

Cobra modification

  1. Begin on your stomach with your hands beside your rib cage. Spread your fingers. Bring your legs together with the tops of the feet pressing into the ground. If you have issues with your sacrum (tailbone) or if this feels uncomfortable, allow space between your legs.
  2. Move both hands out on a forty-five degree angle and raise up onto your fingertips.
  3. Roll your right shoulder blade onto your back. Feel it slide away from your ear.
  4. Roll your left shoulder blade onto your back. Feel it slide away from your ear.
  5. Reach from your head through your toes. Imagine you are an arrow.
  6. Inhale, press into your toenails, and lift your belly. Press your hands forward as you reach your elbows back and broaden your collarbones. Ground your pelvis, legs, and feet as you open your chest forward. You are working on opening the thoracic spine, so make sure you don’t feel tension in your low back. Imagine you are rotating your sternum (breast bone) toward the wall in front of you.
  7. Use ujjayi breathing. As you inhale, think of lengthening the spine and keeping the abdominals engaged. On the exhale, think of softening into any tight spots you might have.
  8. Notice the amount of weight in your hands. You should be able to briefly lift your hands while keeping your spine in the same position. If you cannot lift your hands, you are relying too heavily on your arms and cheating your back out of the work it needs. Instead, come out of the pose and, when you try again, don’t lift quite as high. Remember, this exercise is about your spine.
  9. To come out of the pose, inhale to engage the abdominals and lengthen. Exhale to lower.

Be sure to keep the front of the pelvis, legs, and feet grounded.

Cobra Pose

Cobra pose, Bhujangasana

  1. Begin on your stomach with your hands beside your rib cage. Spread your fingers. Bring your legs together with the tops of the feet pressing into the ground. If you have issues with your sacrum (tailbone) or if this feels uncomfortable, allow space between your legs.
  2. Roll your right shoulder blade onto your back. Feel it slide away from your ear.
  3. Roll your left shoulder blade onto your back. Feel it slide away from your ear.
  4. Reach from your head through your toes. Imagine you are an arrow.
  5. Inhale, press into your toenails, and lift your belly. Press your hands forward as you reach your elbows back and broaden your collarbones. Ground your pelvis, legs, and feet as you open your chest forward. You are working on opening the thoracic spine, so make sure you don’t feel tension in your low back. Imagine you are rotating your sternum (breast bone) toward the wall in front of you.
  6. Use ujjayi breathing. As you inhale, think of lengthening the spine and keeping the abdominals engaged. On the exhale, think of softening into any tight spots you might have.
  7. Notice the amount of weight in your hands. If you feel heavy in your hands, you are relying too heavily on your arms and cheating your back out of the work it needs. Instead, come out of the pose and, when you try again, don’t lift quite as high. Remember, this exercise is about your spine.
  8. Some people will lift such that their arms mostly straighten. If this is you, keep a slight bend in your elbows to avoid hyperextension.
  9. To come out of the pose, inhale to engage the abdominals and lengthen. Exhale to lower.

Keep the front of the pelvis, legs, and feet grounded.

Video of Cobra Pose

For my visual learners, here is a video of me doing Cobra pose. You will notice I have a tight spine. I bring it up because it’s possible that you will not have a tight spine and will be able to lift higher than I do. Just make sure you keep your form correct as you lift, and you will receive the gift of spinal health from this pose.

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Have you used Cobra pose to help with back pain? For what other reasons have you used it? Let us know below.

Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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