Thursday, April 26, 2012

Poses in Detail: Bhujangasana (Cobra)

"The mind I love must have wild places,
a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass,
an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two,
a pool that nobody's fathomed the depth of, 
and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind."
-Katherine Mansfield

Image from Charlie Weingroff

Cobra is a basic prone (supported on the front side of your body) backbending pose that extends the spine, hips, knees and elbows. The serratus muscles are supporting the chest in creating more space, and the abdominal and oblique muscles are engaged to prevent overmobilization of the lumber spine (lower back).

The Sanskrit breakdown:

Bhujanga = Cobra
Asana = Posture

A few notable highlights:

- Your legs are engaged, but your tushy should not be so taut that it's doing the work for the entire asana. As my friend and fellow yoga teacher once said, "Mushy tushy! You want a mushy tushy in Bhujangasana!"
- Be sure that you're extending the hips without externally rotating the legs.
- When the arms push, the shoulders should not elevate, but the spine should still be lengthening.
- Keep an eye out for flaring of the elbows, which will lead to elbow and shoulder joint injuries. The forearms should stay parallel to each other for the best alignment of action through the arms into the spine.
- Most people enter into backbends on the inhale, but try entering it on an exhalation. If you're belly breathing throughout practice, the inhalation would restrict the extension of your thoracic spine and rib cage.

Step-by-steps:

1. Lie on your abdomen with your arms stretched out overhead, forehead on the floor, and the back of the neck lengthened.
2. Draw your hands back until they're under the shoulders, with the elbows tucked all the way into the sides and pressing back.
3. Relax the shoulders away from the ears and draw the shoulder blades down the back, as you engage the bandhas to prevent arching in the low back.
4. Spread the fingers wide, using the entire hand for support, and press down through the web between the thumbs and index fingers and into the pads beneath the knuckles.
5. Press the pubic bone into the floor and lift the torso to a comfortable height, using the strength of the back muscles. Lengthen as you lift, so the torso moves forward as it rises up.
6. Relax the buttocks energetically toward the backs of the thighs to lengthen the low back.
7. Lift and lower several times, activating the back muscles on the lift and softening them as you lower.
8. Rise up slightly higher, pressing into the hands and use the strength of the arms to hold Half Cobra.
9. Draw the chest forward as you press back through the feet, pressing the tops of the feet into the earth. Hold, or lift up into full Cobra by straightening the arms, leaving a microbend at the elbow joint.
10. Lift and open the chest fully, gazing directly forward, as you draw the chest through the gate of the arms, bringing the shoulders back and down.
11. Keep the lower body relaxed even as you lengthen forward and up.
12. Press the sacrum and pubic bone down into the earth to activate the Second Chakra.
13. Allow energy to grow in the pelvis, then rise up the spine through the heart center, where it radiates through the chest, arms and shoulders.

Extra tidbits:

- See if you find a place of rest in the pose, to allow the mind to be absorbed in the energy of the heart. As the sensations expand, create space in the heart to hold them, all the while breathing, sensing and feeling the Anahata Chakra opening.

The benefits of the pose:

- Balances Earth, Air,  and Fire in Ayurvedic medicine. To learn how to practice especially for your doshaso please feel free to contact me.
  - For imbalances in the doshas, aim for the following:
    - Vata: Focus on grounding the lower body.
    - Pitta: Open the heart energetically and emotionally, as opposed to physically.
    - Kapha: Perform as part of a Vinyasa, moving up and down, then back into Child and forward into Cobra.

- Primarily balances the Fourth Chakras, then the Second and Third Chakras.
- Strong spine extension boosts spinal health as long as the forces are evenly distributed.
- Powerful massage and opening for the endocrine system.

Modifications:

- Rather than lengthening the arms all the way, try Half Cobra with the arms bent.
- For a more advanced practice, you can begin to bend the knees and move the soles of the feet toward the crown of the head until they touch.

Injuries:

- If you have low back pain, place a bolster underneath the torso and lift only to the point where the low back begins to arch. Begin with modifications and deepen from there.
- Avoid if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure, heart disease, or have suffered a stroke.

Based upon Integrative Yoga Therapy by Joseph and Lilian Le Page and Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff.

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