Cobra pose (bhujangasana) is an essential pose in a traditional vinyasa style practice as it is part of the vinyasa sequence itself, coming after chaturanga and before downward facing dog.
Cobra is a great way to open the front body, stretching the chest and abdomen. It also strengthens the back and tones the glutes, while opening the shoulders and spine. It can also stimulate the abdominal organs, and relieve stress and fatigue.
Although we tend to come into this pose very often in a vinyasa class, that frequency does not necessarily guarantee being able to take your low cobra to a high cobra.
To get your cobra pose from here:
Work on these postures and dynamic exercises:
Cat and Cow
Moving the spine in between cat / cow is a great way to warm up before going into any deeper spinal flexion or extension and can increase the flexibility and mobility of the spine. This can also loosen the hips which can affect your lumbar (lower back) flexibility.
Puppy with Cat and Cow
Puppy pose on its own is already a great way to open up the upper back and shoulders. When you add the cat/cow motion to it you can increase the flexibility of this area even more.
Taking your hands out wider and coming onto the fingertips as you lift up into spider cobra pose will open the shoulders deeper than a regular cobra pose.
Dynamic twists are a fabulous release for the spine that can help deepen your spinal extension in backbends.
Thread the Kneedle
This static thoracic twist can release tension in the upper back and shoulders.
This pose will strengthen the posterior chain which runs all the way from the back of your feet to the crown of the head. To lift higher in cobra pose we need to activate the muscles of the back. With the hands clasped behind you in locust pose, you can simultaneously work on opening the chest and shoulders.
Shoulder Pulses with Block
This dynamic exercise increases mobility of the upper back and shoulders to help us lift higher in our cobra pose.
Thoracic Extension with Block
This dynamic exercise further opens the shoulders and lengthens the spine while deepening the upper back extension necessary for a higher cobra pose. Be sure to draw the navel in and tuck the tail bone as you lift so you don’t collapse the lower back. This engagement is important for protecting your lower back in cobra pose as well.
Dancing camel opens the front of the hips which is an integral part of lifting higher in your cobra pose. This also increases spinal and shoulder flexibility. Tuck the tail bone and draw navel in and up to support your lower back.
All of the previous poses I mentioned should also begin to make wild thing more accessible. Wild thing engages the entire back body and increases spinal and shoulder flexibility. You can start off in flip dog (wild thing with both knees bent) if you find this version too intense.
Regular practice of these yoga poses and dynamic exercises will without a doubt take your cobra from low to high. While regular practice is an important factor in flexibility, keep in mind that there are other factors that will determine how deep you’ll be able to go.
We all have a different spinal bone structure that can make extension more or less natural, regardless of flexibility. The closer together your spinal discs are the less natural it will be for you to come into a deep spinal extension, as your bones will stop you before your flexibility does. Another factor is how much of your day you spend in a counter cobra position. For example, if you are hunching over a computer for long hours there will likely be a lot more work for you to reverse the effects of that hunched posture.
When it comes to flexibility, I cannot stress enough the importance of patience. Forcing flexibility too fast can lead to pain and injury. Always pay attention to the subtle sensations you feel and respect your body’s current limit. One of the biggest complaints I hear about cobra pose is tension in the lower back, which often happens when forcing too much. To protect the lower back press the pubic bone, ankles and tops of feet down into the mat, draw your belly button up and in and send your tailbone towards your pubic bone (like a dog with its tail between its legs). The video below explains cobra pose in-depth:
If you want to put some of this to practice right away I want to let you try one of my most popular shoulder and upper back opening classes from inside my monthly online studio membership: