Few months ago I read an article in The New Yorker about the abuse of pain medication to treat lower back pain. I kept thinking: “Man, so many of those people could be helped with just a little bit of Cobra!” I know that some of the chronic back problems are complex combinations of things and require a thorough individualized investigation. But I also know (from years of teaching the Lower Back Therapy series) that the majority of people can be helped with some basic back strengthening. And this is what Cobra pose excels at, if we do it right, of course.
It seems to me that many yoga practitioners have a strong opinion about Cobra – they either love it or hate it. I love it. I love it because it is so utilitarian: it helps you strengthen and stabilize the lower back, relieve tension in the upper back and the neck – these are the problem areas for many of us. It also helps you deepen the breath and feel more energized, and I could use that in the morning.
The main point to remember when doing Cobra pose is to PULL BACK with the hands instead of pushing them down. That way you distribute the curve more evenly throughout the back. The point of the pose is not to curve the upper body back, but to lift the chest forward and up, away from the navel. That’s all.
Cobra pose (Bhujangasana) has two sister poses: Locust (Salabhasana/Ardha Salabhasana) and Airplane (Vimanasana). Salabhasana picks up where Cobra pose leaves off and helps develop even more strength in your lower back (because you are lifting the legs here). Ardha Salabhasana is very useful for strengthening one side of the back at a time, in case you have asymmetrical muscles development there (many of us do). Moving the legs in and out in Vimanasana encourages a slight tipping of the pelvis back and forth, which can help realign the relationship between the sacrum and the legs. We use it extensively to deal with SI joint issues. This movement also strengthens the structures that support and protect the SI ligaments (lower back muscles, glutes, hip rotators and abductors).
This 20 minute yoga practice utilizes all three of those poses (I call them Cobra and Co). Since Vimanasana is pretty strong, make sure that you approach it carefully and gradually. This practice is designed to build strength and stability in your back, deepen your breath and increase your energy. If you do it in the morning, you will start the day with stable body, high energy and clear mind.
Cobra and Co: Strengthen your back and clear your head