YOGA ALIGNMENT: COBRA POSE

RELEASE LOW BACK PAIN IN BACKBENDS

COBRA POSE

YOGA ALIGNMENT: COBRA POSE

HOW TO RELEASE LOW BACK PAIN IN BACKBENDS

If you feel back pain in backbends, you are not alone.

Many people experience low back pain in backbends. If you’re experiencing this or just feeling stuck in your yoga poses (or you’re a yoga teacher), then you are in the right place. When done properly, backbends feel like a lengthening of the spine rather than stiff and compressive. With the right actions, backbends also strengthen each segment of the back, much of which weakens after hours of sitting, something most of us do each day.

Cobra (Bhujangasana) is often one of the most overlooked backbend poses, because it’s not as sexy or challenging as other backbends. But it shouldn’t be because for most people, it’s one of the most effective and accessible postures to increase spinal mobility. While most of the world does upward facing dog – “up dog” – I choose to practice and teach cobra because it’s hands down the best prep for backbends. BUT, there are many ways to get into cobra pose, and most of them will not serve you well.

BENEFITS OF COBRA POSE

Cobra Pose is my top suggested pose to release low back pain in backbends.

Here’s why I think we should give this pose its due props. First, Cobra is done from the mat, so it’s more stable and doesn’t require balance. Why is that important? When balance is involved, the mid section will unconsciously hold tension, much of which happens in the abdominals. So? Too much abdominal engagement decreases spinal extension (back bending), likely causing compression instead of an expansion.

When the body is stable, it relaxes, and this is one of the keys of backbends. You cannot attack a backbend from a place of fear, aggression, frustration, motivation, or any emotional state associated with an overly active sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). In other words, force does not work when it comes to these postures the way it would when approaching something like an arm balance or heavy weight lifting.

I’m not preaching that there is no effort in cobra, but rather that backbends require softness, surrender, and extremely accurate and well-placed effort. This is best learned in a stable environment, and Cobra Pose is where I suggest you train.

Second, students can take the pose to the level that is right for their bodies, and with consistent practice, progress is apparent fairly quickly. With the alignment I share in cobra pose, your elbows are bent, and rather than pushing your way into a backbend, you pull yourself up. This makes it harder to mistakenly compress the spine as in a posture like upward dog.

Today I want to share with you exactly how to release low back pain in backbends through what I call the “3-part Cobra”.  This approach to Cobra Pose can truly help you and/or your students access a more complete range of motion, while building strength, length, and flexibility through the core region of their bodies. Let’s go over this 3-part cobra that I teach in all of my online immersions and online teacher trainings

 

 

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Release Low Back Pain in Backbends with The 3-Part Cobra

The footage in this video snippet is taken from the March 2021 Immersion titled MOVE•BREATHE•RELEASE

3-PART COBRA STEPS

THE SET UP

From prone (on your belly) position, bring your hands wide, bend into your elbows and come onto your fingertips. 

THE STEPS

Part 1. Inhale to raise your chest, shoulders, and upper ribs off the mat, gently rounding through your upper back.

Part 2.  Soften your ribcage forward, letting your shoulder blades come toward each other. This will initiate the bowing effect by relaxing the abdominals. In this step, you have the ability to control placement of the backbend. Moving pressure out of the low back by stretching low ribs forward is relieving for most people. If you want to release low back pain in backbends, focus your attention and practice primarily on this step!

Part 3. If and only if your back feels great in Part 2, then you are ready to move to the next step. Here you re-engage your abdominals BUT NOT the outer abdominals. You’re not trying for a six-pack here. Instead, try drawing your abdomen UPWARD while pressing your low ribs forward. If you feel compression in your low back as a result, this means you pushed with your arms instead of pulling your belly up. Think of the image of a bow that I showed at the beginning of the above video. You have to press the center of a bow forward. Instead of pushing, PULL your low rib cage toward the front of the mat.

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WHY IS THE ALIGNMENT OF COBRA POSE ON FINGER TIPS?

Someone asked me why I don’t suggest doing this pose with the palms of my hands planted on the floor. She said doing it this way gave her a much greater range of motion, pushing her torso higher up.

She is 100% right and I told her THAT’S exactly why I use my fingertips.

When we have palms on the ground, we have a tendency to push. On fingertips, you put less weight, which forces you into using your back muscles (pull muscles). Instead of pushing the upper body into the lower body, causing an L-shape that compresses the lower spine, you will have an easier time pulling your rib cage away from the pelvis, decompressing the spine.

Of course, if you cannot do cobra on your fingertips and this is causing you pain in your joints, then do not force it, but do your best NOT to push.

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    PRO TIP:

    Instead of looking at the backbend from the outside to see if you are getting deeper into it, feel from the inside. When you push yourself up it will certainly look like a deeper back bend, but you are only deepening 1 or 2 joints, and that is the problem. It’s better to appear like you aren’t going deep, and feel the depth with in. This requires letting go of instant gratification, and embracing true transformation, which always looks to be slow on the outside until one day you are placing your feet on your head in a back bend.

    Let’s review that one more time…
    In a supportive backbend, it’s the center of the body- the ribcage- that bows forward in order to lengthen the spine. So it’s not a push of the hands that moves the body up and back; rather, it’s an engagement of the upper back muscles that pulls the chest forward and through the arms.
    If you are ready to apply the 3-part cobra pose to release low back pain in backbends, then I highly recommend Journey to Bliss and Spinal Reset. Both of these Immersions will share with you these steps, and many more toward the goal of increasing spinal mobility and decreasing discomfort.

    To learn more about the proper set up for wheel pose, check out Backbends and The Glutes with a short follow-along video.

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