3 Creative Ways to Practice Cobra Pose

Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana. Image depicts classical version of the pose

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) may be one of the most underrated yoga postures. Why? Although it is commonly taught as a beginner’s yoga posture, Cobra Pose is both highly challenging and strength-building when practiced with proper alignment. In this article, we explore some of the many creative ways to optimize the benefits of Cobra Pose.

Benefits of Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Cobra Pose variation with blankets for extra support.

Students may express frustration with Bhujangasana because it can feel as though nothing much is happening when they practice with correct alignment of the head, neck, and spine. 

To compensate for this, beginning yoga students may use the strength of their arms to crank the upper body higher off the mat. Unfortunately, this may cause the core to go offline, leading to strain in the neck or lower back. 

It’s true that, on the surface, it can appear that very little is happening in Cobra Pose. Yet, if practiced correctly, the core body works hard to maintain the lift of the head, neck, and chest. In particular, Cobra requires the engagement of the back core cylinder. Thus, it is a foundational shape for strengthening muscles of the low back that support posture, including the erector spinae muscles, the multifidus muscle, and the quadratus lumborum.  

In addition to strengthening the core, Bhujangasana is also a backbend. Lifting the heart in Cobra Pose allows students to gently stretch the front of the abdomen and chest. Therefore, Cobra can prepare the body for deeper backbends, such as Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) or Bow Pose (Dhanurasana).  

Finally, when practiced with correct alignment, Cobra avoids strain on the low back and does not require a great deal of strength in the arms or wrists. This can make this backbend more accessible than others to students who are new to yoga or who may have limited strength or flexibility.  

Contraindications for Cobra Pose

Bird Dog Pose or Parsva Balasana is a alternative pose for Cobra Pose if Cobra Pose is contraindicated.

Although there are many benefits of practicing Cobra Pose, this posture may not be for everyone. Because this pose places pressure on the abdomen, it should be avoided during pregnancy. Instead, pregnant people can modify by practicing variations of Bird Dog Pose (Parsva Balasana) by extending the opposite arm and leg from all fours. 

In addition, because common misalignments can place strain on the lower back and neck, beginning students with back or neck injuries should avoid practicing Cobra without the supervision of a yoga teacher or physical therapist.  

Try These 3 Creative Variations of Bhujangasana

In the video at the end of the article, yoga teacher Robin Rothenberg guides us through creative variations of Cobra Pose. You can follow along in the video and use the instructions below for a breakdown of the three Cobra variations featured in the video. 

  1. BhujanGasana Variation #1: Hands to Back

    1. Begin lying on your belly with your feet straight back behind. Seal the inner edges of your feet together to stabilize your lower back. 
    2. Bring your hands onto your lower back. Roll your shoulder blades in so that your shoulders are lifting away from the floor. If it feels like your neck is strained with your head down in this position, you can take another blanket or towel and place it underneath your forehead. 
    3. As you inhale, lift your chest. Let your forehead lift away from the floor. Keep your gaze toward the floor so your chin is slightly tucked. Then, on an exhalation, come down. Notice how it felt to work your erector spinae muscles on the backside of your body. 
    4. On your next inhalation, lift your chest. Continue keeping your chin in and your gaze toward the floor. Release back down on an exhalation. 
  2. Cobra Pose Variation #2: Half Cobra Salute

    1. On your next inhalation, lift your chest and bring your right arm to your right temple in a salute position. As you exhale, bring your right arm back down to your lower back and turn your head to the left. 
    2. As you inhale, return your head to the center, and bring your right hand back into a salute position at your right temple. As you exhale, sweep your right arm out and turn your head to the left. Repeat this step once more. 
    3. Next time you lift into the Cobra salute, lift your left leg as you bring your right arm into a salute. Notice how that diagonal line from your right shoulder to your left hip feels. As you exhale, release down. 
    4. Lift your right hand and left leg again as you inhale. As you exhale, release down and turn your head to the left.
    5. Repeat this entire series on the opposite side, now lifting your left arm into a salute and lifting your right leg as the series progresses. Notice if it feels different to work this second side. 
  3. Variation #3: Full Cobra Salute

    1. If you felt stable in the previous variation, now try lifting your arms into a salute and lifting both legs as you inhale. 
    2. Stay lifted on your exhalation. 
    3. As you next inhale, bend your elbows to bring your arms into a goal post shape and spread your legs wider than hips-width distance. 
    4. As you exhale, bring your legs back together and draw your fingertips back to your temples in a salute. Repeat this action two more times.

Transitioning From Cobra Pose to Resting

Child's Pose or Balasana is a great pose to practice after Cobra Pose or Cobra Pose variations.

On an exhalation, come into a resting position. Let your forehead rest on your hands and bring your attention to your breath. You might feel your heartbeat or feel the muscles on your back. 

Direct your breath back to your abdomen. Use the floor as feedback for diaphragmatic breathing. You may feel your navel soften toward the floor as you breathe in and drawback upward while keeping your lower ribs on the floor as you exhale.

Bring your forearms onto the floor beside you, curl your toes under, and use your abdominal core to lift off from your ribs and bring yourself back into Child’s Pose (Balasana). 

Cobra Pose Video with Yoga Therapist Robin Rothenberg

Lacey Ramirez

Lacey Ramirez writes for YogaUOnline and is an ERYT-200 yoga teacher, global health researcher, and writer based in St. Louis. Through her work, she seeks to make yoga accessible, inclusive, and equitable.

Lacey discovered yoga as a tool for centering during her years as a competitive runner. Since then, yoga has served as a way to connect with her body throughout her experience of pregnancy and parenthood. She teaches because she hopes others can use this sacred practice for calming, healing, and transformation.

As a yoga teacher, Lacey specializes in teaching restorative, Yin, prenatal, and trauma-informed Vinyasa yoga. She has also completed birth doula and prenatal/postnatal barre certifications and trainings. Additionally, she holds a Masters of Science in Global Health and Population from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. To learn more and connect, visit her website laceyramirez.com 

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