Want to learn more about Bhujangasana, aka Cobra Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Bhujangasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, myths, modifications and more.
When I first started practicing yoga in Los Angeles, there was another Stephen who came to all the same workshops and practiced at the same studios that I did. To differentiate between us, people always referred to the other Stephen as “Bendy Stephen”. I’m pretty flexible, but no one will ever call me “Bendy Stephen”.
I used to avoid back bends because I found them extremely difficult. I had next to no upper back bend and arm balances were more fun anyway. Of course, I slowly realized that it’s when practicing the challenging poses that transformation occurs.
Since then, I’ve spent years working on strengthening my erector spinae, expanding my knowledge of how to effectively back bend, and practicing, practicing, practicing. I’m still not a champion back bender, but I have learned to love this class of poses.
Ready for some fun facts?
- Bhujanga means serpent or snake, and since cobras are common in India, the English name for this pose is Cobra Pose. The shape of the pose sort of resembles a cobra flaring its hood.
- Symbolically, bhujanga represents kundalini or shakti. Lord Shiva is often depicted wearing a cobra around his neck, said to represent the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
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Bhujangasana Quick Facts
|Meaning||Bhuj means curved. |
Anga means body or limb.
So the name can translate as curved body pose.
Bhujanga means serpent or snake.
Cobras are common in India, ergo Cobra Pose.
Note: I’m only including the scientifically supported benefits of yoga poses. There are plenty of claims about other benefits of each pose (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) out there if you want to hunt them down. I feel that that pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community in general, so choose not to give them further airtime.
The most common benefits of Bhujangasana are:
- Stronger erector spinae (extensors of the back — the muscles on your back that make you stand up straight, and take you into a back bend)
- Strengthens biceps and triceps
- Strengthens deep core muscles
Cobra Pose stretches:
- Psoas group
- Pectoralis major
- Rectus abdominus
Other benefits of Cobra Pose include:
- Increases flexibility in your spine.
- Encourages deep breathing through chest expansion.
- Can help correct rounded shoulders when performed with proper alignment.
- Can help alleviate sciatica because of the balanced action at your lower back and the lift out of the pelvis. But almost anything that yoga alleviates, it can also exacerbate, so proceed with caution.
- Helps improves posture, as the muscles needed to extend your spine into the shape of Bhujangasana also help you stand up straight.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
- Students with spine injuries should approach this pose with caution and discuss their yoga practice with their medical doctor.
- Students with neck problems relating to spondylitis should avoid Cobra Pose.
- If you are pregnant you may wish to avoid Bhujangasana, or learn to use yoga bolsters and other props, so you do not apply too much pressure on your abdomen.
Bhujangasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose
- Lie down on your belly.
- Bring your legs straight back behind you. Place your feet flat (tops of feet on mat), bring your legs close to each other and stretch your feet straight back.
- Place your hands on your mat, close to your chest, lining your thumbs up with your nipples. Keep your wrists parallel to the front edge of your mat.
- Spread your fingers and lightly push down. Pull back with your hands as they resist against your mat (without moving your hands back).
- Lift your shoulders, head, and chest off your mat. Extend your back from the top of your spine to the bottom of your spine to help lift you up.
- Push your pubic bone (lower belly) into the mat and keep it connected to the earth. Keep your pubic bone pushing into the ground the whole time you are in Bhujangasana.
- Tone your abdomen to prevent over-arching your lower back. Think of moving the space around your navel gently back towards your spine.
- Extend through your spine (do more back bend).
- Push down through your feet to help activate your posterior chain (of muscles) and lift through your upper torso.
- If your elbows are bent, point them straight back.
- If you can straighten your arms (while keeping your pubic bone on the ground) you may wish to walk your hands back a little closer to your hips. This is an advanced variation of Bhujangasana.
- Steady your breath and look forward.
- This is Bhujangasana, or Cobra Pose.
- Exit as you entered.
- It can feel good to come into Balasana (Child’s Pose) as a counter pose.
Modifications & Variations
If you’re new to the pose:
- Baby Cobra is a lower version of this back bend and good for those with tight shoulders or students building strength in their back.
If the front of your pelvis hurts:
- If you have boney hip points (ASIS) they can press into your mat and cause pain when you do Cobra Pose. Place a yoga blanket on your mat so that your pelvis can rest of the blanket.
If the back bend is too deep:
- While practicing this pose with straight arms is the final form of the pose, it is much more common, and less strenuous, to practice Cobra Pose with bent elbows. Bent elbows help you maintain mobility in your shoulders so that you can stabilize them on your back, rather than lifting them towards your ears, or rolling them forward (both of which are common misalignments in this pose).
- If the back bend is too deep for you, or you are having trouble keeping your hips on the ground, walk your hands forward until your arms are straight and you can comfortably keep your hips on the ground. This is a more passive version of Bhujangasana.
If you want a less strenuous option:
- You can place a bolster under your lower rib cage to help limit the core work or upper back bend needed to do this pose.
If your legs turn out:
- You can place a yoga block between your thighs to help prevent your legs from turning out and find more back bend. Your gluteus maximus (aka big butt muscles) turns your legs out and extends your hips, and by limiting the external rotation you can access more of the hip extension action, leading to more back bend.
If you want a seated variation:
- Cobra Pose can be done seated in a yoga chair, holding the back of the chair and lifting your chest up (a good option if you are pregnant).
If you have a wrist injury:
- Keep your hands in fists instead of hands flat if you are dealing with a wrist injury.
- A yoga wedge is a great tool for people with wrist injuries. Place the wedge on your mat with the thicker edge closer you, and place your hands on the wedge. This decreases the angle of extension at your wrist, which can reduce wrist stress or pain.
Poses Related to Cobra Pose
Preparatory Poses for Cobra Pose
- Shalambhasana / Locust Pose
- Indudalasana / Crescent Pose
- Gomukhasana / Cow Face Pose
- Chaturanga Dandasana / Four-Limbed Staff Pose or Half Plank
- Shalamba Bhujangasana / Sphinx Pose
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana / Upward-Facing Dog Pose
- Halasana / Plough Pose
Poses to Take Your Practice Further
- Bhujangasana 2 / Cobra 2
- Eka Pada Rajakapotasana / One-Legged King Pigeon Pose
- Ganda Bherundasana / Formidable Face Pose or Chin Stand
Related Posts & Videos
Gear & Resources for this Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Foam Yoga Wedge
- Folding Yoga Chair
A Final Note About Cobra Pose
There are many stories about the power of snakes in Hindu mythology. The shedding of a snake’s skin symbolizes the cycle of birth, death and rebirth and, just like in Christianity, they also stand for passion and desires.
Who knows, by practicing Bhujangasana maybe you will learn to overcome your desires, control your passion, and find yourself reborn through the practice as a more compassionate and caring person.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Cobra Pose. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your life adventure to the fullest!