Bhujangasana - TINT Yoga

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Bhujangasana Cobra Pose

    Quick Facts

  • Sanskrit (Original): Bhujaṅgāsana
  • Etymology: Serpent (bhujaṅga); pose (āsana)
  • Fun Fact about the pose: Bhujangasana is probably the most commonly misaligned yoga pose you see on the internet.
  • Asana Type: Backbend, Prone
  • Main length muscle groups: Abdominal muscles, hip flexors, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, tibialis anterior
  • Main strength muscle groups: Spinal extensors; serratus anterior, rotator cuff; hamstrings, adductor magnus, vastii; triceps brachii, pronator quadratus, pronator teres
  • Vinyasa Breath: Inhale

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How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step

  • 1 To get into Bhujangasana, lie down on your belly with the legs straight and the feet hip-width apart. 
  • 2 Press all ten toenails into the ground. This will engage the muscles in your legs.
  • 3 Place your palms on the ground next to your lower ribs so that your forearms are vertical.
  • 4 Outwardly rotate your forearms so that the index fingers are facing forward.
  • 5 Bend your knees slightly and lift your pelvis off the floor. Widen the sitting bones by pressing your hips outwards.
  • 6 Pull your pubic bone to the navel and roll up the spine.
  • 7 Place your pubic bone back on the ground and as far forward as possible.
  • 8 Lengthen through your thoracic spine and lift up the shoulders and armpits.
  • 9 Move your shoulders up and back and outwardly rotate your upper arms.
  • 10 Rotate your scapulae (shoulder blades) so that the tips of shoulder blades move towards each other.
  • 11 Push your chest forward and up and reach your collar bones forward and up.
  • 12 Lift your chin slightly but avoid hyperextending the neck. There should be no wrinkles on the backside of your neck.
  • 13 As a last step, lift up your knees and engage our thighs by inwardly rotating the thighs.

Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose

Learn about common mistakes and teaching perspectives of the pose in our Asana Tutorials.

  • Bend your elbows: In traditional alignment, you often see the arms fully extended. This, however, results in a limited range of motion in the shoulder because the shoulder joint is locked. If, on the other hand, you bend your elbows slightly, you will have more range of motion in your shoulder. So, keep your elbows slightly bent so that you can move your shoulders further backward.
  • Position the forearms vertically: ​​Another common misalignment is that the hands are directly under the shoulders. If you lift your trunk from this position by pushing the ground away, all the force created by the arms is going backward. This leads to compression in the lower spine. To avoid this, bring your palms further back so that the forearms are vertical. If you lift from this position, all the force is directed downwards into the floor, helping you to lift the chest higher without compressing the lower back.
  • Lift the shoulders up and back: Due to the scapulohumeral rhythm, lifting the shoulders up and back will help you stay pain-free in Bhujangasana. Don’t push your scapulae down towards your lower back since this will create compression. Instead, lift the shoulders up and bring the tips of your shoulder blades towards each other. At the same time, move your chest forward and up.
  • Engage the legs: Assuming that the legs are passive in Cobra Pose is far from reality. In fact, you should inwardly rotate the thighs and push the thighs up. To do this, lift the kneecaps and push your thigh bones (femur) backwards (i.e. up) in order to create more space for the hip flexors.
  • Relax your buttocks: Too much engagement of the glutes leads to more compression in your lumbar spine. You can relax your buttocks by gently wiggling your hips or by actively engaging your glutes as much as you can and then release as much as you can. This will bring more spaciousness in your lower back.
  • Keep the neck long: Another common mistake in Cobra Pose is hyperextending the neck. This will compress your cervical spine and also your airway. Only keep a gentle curve in your neck and create length instead. This will allow you to breathe more freely since your airway is not compressed.

Adapting The Pose Through Modifications

Simplify

  • If backbending scares you, approach this asana by opting for the low Cobra variation, also called Baby Cobra, since this requires less flexibility in the spine and less muscular effort.
  • Another option is keeping the forearms on the ground and parallel for Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana). In this case, your elbows are underneath your shoulders. The rest of the alignment remains the same, but the backbend of the spine is less pronounced.
  • You can also practice Bhujangasana standing upright rather than lying down on the floor. Face a wall in front of you and place your hands against the wall hugging your elbows into the ribcage. As you start pressing against the wall, apply the same alignment as you’d do in a prone position, i.e. keep your elbows slightly bent and bring the bottom sides of your shoulder blades together. Then lift your collar bones up and forward.

Level Up

  • If you feel stronger and want to challenge yourself in Bhujangasana, deepen this yoga pose by lifting your palms off the floor while keeping the chest lifted. The hands and arms are in the same position as they were on the floor. Maintain this pose for a few breaths.
  • If your spinal flexibility allows it, focus on rolling into Cobra Pose in a wave-like motion vertebra by vertebra. Take it to the next level by rolling back into a prone position with the same wave-like elegance.
  • Lift your knees up, center your legs and roll onto the tops of your toes for Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).

Benefits of Bhujangasana

  • Bhujangasana is a great yoga pose to soothe back pain and mobilize the spine. Due to the strong muscular engagement, it strengthens the spine, the legs and buttocks, as well as the arms and shoulders.
  • Since Cobra Pose is a front-opening pose, it stretches the entire front of the body, from the chest and shoulders to the abdomen. It thus opens the heart and lungs and can help you breathe more freely.
  • If you spend the day hunched over a computer or desk, this pose is a great stretch for the muscles in your shoulders, chest, and neck, and can, thus, relieve tightness in the upper body.
  • Due to the prone position, it stimulates the abdominal organs and can thus help with digestive issues.

TAKE YOUR YOGA CLASS PREPARATION TO THE NEXT LEVEL!

I don’t know how often I see pictures of Cobra Pose with a very (!) unhealthy alignment. It always makes me want to correct it immediately. So, this pose is a very good example that you should never let yourself be guided by pictures of a pose but by an experienced yoga teacher.

Doreen

Content Manager at TINT | Passionate Yoga Teacher

FAQ: Common questions about this pose

There is no set limit – anything from just one inhalation to as many breaths as you can maintain it safely (!) is fine. In more dynamic yoga styles such as Vinyasa Yoga or Inside Flow, Bhujangasana is mainly used as a transitional pose and only practiced during one inhalation. In a Hatha Yoga or Yin Yoga class, when the focus is on opening the front of the body and/or building strength in the back, this pose can be held for several breaths (note that, in a Yin Yoga class, props are usually used to support the body in the pose). However, as soon as you start to feel this pose in your lumbar spine, either readjust yourself or come out of the pose as this is often a sign of compression in the lumbar spine.

Especially if you spend most of the day in a hunched position on your computer or smartphone, Bhujangasana is a great counter pose as it stretches the muscles in your shoulders, chest, and neck. This helps you release tightness in the upper body and reminds you of how good an upright posture and open chest feel.

Chances are that you have seen and learned Bhujangasana with straight arms. This is how it is taught in many traditional yoga styles. However, keeping the elbows straight creates a joint lock and decreases the range of motion in your shoulder girdle. As a result, you may feel compressed in the neck and shoulder area and are unable to lift your chest. If, on the other hand, you bend the elbows slightly, you will feel that you have more space to roll the shoulders up and back and open the chest.

This is also something you see in almost any picture of this pose. However, if the gaze is upwards, the neck is hyperextended causing compression in the cervical spine. This also inhibits your breathing. Plus, in the long term, this is not very healthy for your neck. While you certainly lift the chin up, do not overextend. Instead of looking up to the ceiling, rather imagine that you want to look above a fence as if you were to watch your neighbors (which, of course, no one does).

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