A little more challenging than Sphinx is it’s bigger brother, Cobra, which also belongs to the family of poses in yoga that we call backbends. Cobra will strengthen the muscles around your whole spine, lengthen the muscles of the front body and open up your chest and abdominals. It is important to remember that the lift into Cobra comes from your back muscles and your arms and hands are just there to support. Cobra is not a press up!
Regular practice of Cobra helps to prepare your body for the strength and length you will need to lift into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).
How to get in and out of the pose:
Lie on your front with your hands at the side of your chest, elbows bent. Your fingers should face forwards.
Legs can be together or hip width apart and draw your femurs (thigh bones) inwards. Press the tops of your feet into the mat.
Keep your elbows drawing in to the side body. Hands are only lightly pressing the mat.
Inhale to lift and draw your chest away from the mat.
Imagine sending your tailbone towards your heels and drawing the pelvis down towards the mat. This helps to create “space” in the lower back. Always keep the connection between the pelvis and the mat.
You are aiming to create an even curve along the length of the spine. Keep your neck neutral (don’t tip the head back) and look towards the top of your mat.
Draw your shoulders down and back, create width across the top of the chest.
Exit the pose by slowly lowering your upper body to the mat on an exhale and make a pillow with your arms to rest either your chin or one side of your face.
Remember to create the balance between effort and ease in your pose.
How long to stay in the pose:
Five to ten breaths if practiced on its own. If practiced during a sun salutation you will inhale into Cobra and exhale from Cobra into the next pose (Downward Facing Dog).
Tip of the nose
Top of the mat
Modifications you can take to make this pose more accessible:
If you have back issues, raise only the top part of the chest away from the mat. Stay low in the pose and do not go into a full extension.
Placing a blanket under your hips may make the pose feel more comfortable.
Variations and challenges
To increase the strength in your back, lift your hands from the floor. Keep drawing the shoulder blades in and down.
Contraindications / Cautions
Cobra is one of the gentler back bends but always be cautious with this pose if you have problems with your back or neck
You can increase downward pressure in to your hands to take more of the work in the pose
If you have wrist pain or carpal tunnel syndrome you may want to practice sphinx as an alternative to Cobra