For many of us, the world of backbends and heart-openers begins with bhujangasana. Strong and centering, cobra is excellent for reversing imbalances of the shoulders, chest, and spine, and massaging the endocrine system. Deceptively simple, when practiced with patience, awareness and sensitivity to the energetics of the pose, cobra nurtures the “open” heart’s compassion, and a calming, centered sense of wisdom, power and grace.
Lie on your belly with your forehead on the floor, arms rested alongside your torso. Take a few long, slow breaths, feeling the movement of your spine as you breathe. Notice the natural lengthening of your spine as you inhale, and the release to its neutral shape as you exhale.
Place your hands beneath your shoulders and draw your elbows alongside your outer ribcage. Spread your fingers widely, lightly pressing your finger pads against the floor as you draw your shoulder blades firmly onto your back ribs.
On an inhalation, lift your head, shoulders, and chest off the floor, using the strength of your back body and lengthening the front of your spine into cobra.
Spread across the bases of your toes and press the tops of your feet into the floor. Engage your lower quadriceps and tone your inner thighs. Work your legs actively to support the lift of your torso. Press your pubic bone against the floor, relax your upper buttocks, and lightly draw your tailbone towards your heels. These actions help to create space across your lower back, so that you can distribute the sensation along the entire length of your spine.
Deepen your inner elbows towards your heels as you continue to press through your hands, into the tops of your feet, and into your pubic bone. Rise up by straightening your arms and drawing your chest through. On an inhalation, lift your chin, drawing up and back through the crown of your head. Be careful not to collapse the base of your skull onto your upper spine. You can support your neck by drawing your chin towards the base of your skull, so that you feel a slight lift and softening here, even as you take your head back.
Turn your gaze towards the tip of your nose and soften your forehead as you find a place of rest in the pose, balancing effort of the body and absorption into the energetic experience of your heart.
In cobra, feel the length of your abdomen and the sensations across your chest, especially in your heart center. As you breathe, spread your awareness throughout your entire body. Relax the space behind your sternum, or breastbone, allowing for your breath to circulate through your heart center. Feel the connection between your pelvis, your navel center, your heart and your hands.
You can create more heat and energy in cobra by incorporating breath-based movement in and out of the pose. From cobra, as you exhale, slowly lower your torso to the floor, resting on your forehead. Inhale, and roll up through your spine to make the shape of the cobra, as you exhale, tone your navel to your spine and slowly lower back down to the forehead. Repeat for 8-10 rounds. Try turning your cheek to one side and then to the other, feeling the release across your neck.
On your last round or so, bend your knees, drawing up and back through the crown of your head, pointing toes towards crown, as though to strike the crown with your tail. If your feet touch your head, take a few deep breaths, relax the space behind your sternum, and continue to spread awareness throughout your body evenly. If your feet are still far from your head, simply imagine the circuitry through your body, connecting a line of energy from your navel center towards your toes and up through your heart center towards the crown of your head. Exhale and release, coming back to rest on your belly.
Any time of year is a good time for practicing cobra pose. In the rituals of our daily lives, we often find ourselves in “forward-focused” positions, with shoulders slumped, spine rounded, and neck jutting forward. A daily practice of cobra can help to correct those tendencies. During this winter’s holiday season, practice cobra to cultivate the enduring wisdom, warmth, and compassion of the open heart that lives in each of us.
About the Author:
Chrisandra Fox is a well-loved and popular yoga teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s leading a retreat to Mayacamas Ranch on New Year’s weekend Dec 31, 2015- Jan 3, 2016. Register here.