Mind-Body Workout Modifications for Yoga's Cobra Pose

Try Cobra during the posture-pacing or stretching sections of your mind-body workout. Cobra (Bujangasana) is a beautiful posture that everyone seems to know of or perhaps even do as a part of traditional exercise. But it is one with which to be very careful — avoid it if you have back problems, or modify it if you experience any pain in your back or neck.

Westerners spend a lot of time bending forward while seated (think about sitting at computers, hunched over steering wheels, or plopped on couches), so bending backwards into what is called spinal extension (the opposite of bending forward) needs some patience and slow work. You stretch your back and open your chest with this posture.

Start with the simplest Cobra and then try a more advanced modification. Choose the one that works best for you, even alternating one posture as you tire of another.

  1. Lie on the ground, stomach down, forehead on the floor.

    This position is called a prone position. In any mind-body exercise, unless you are simply doing a deep relaxation, your abdominal muscles are still engaged and tightened even when you’re flopped down on the floor. Nobody can see them, so it’s all up to you to use them so your back stays supported.

  2. Place your hands palm down against the floor, on each side of your face about even with your temples.

  3. Inhale, then exhale and push against the floor with your forearms as you raise your upper body off the floor. Stop when your upper arms are unfolded, but your elbows and your hip bones are still on the floor. Feel as if you are lengthening your back out and up.

    Avoid collapsing at the back of your neck; instead feel as if you are lengthening your neck up and out, and you are still looking forward.

  4. Hold the posture and breathe. When you’re ready, exhale as you lower your upper body back to the floor.

Try these intermediate modifications for additional challenge:

  • Lift your chest and head up, as described in the preceding steps, but go farther to where your elbows come off the floor, still keeping your hip bones down.

  • Place your hands closer to your shoulders and lift your chest, as described in the preceding steps. Although your elbows come off the floor again, they remain a little bent and your hips still stay glued down.

    Try to keep your gluteal muscles (your buttocks) relaxed as you lift up. Recent theory has it that this conscious action can help take strain off the lower back.

  • What to avoid in this mind-body pose:

  • Pushing beyond the flexibility of your back and lifting your hips up

  • Dropping your head back

  • Relaxing your abdominal muscles

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