How to Do a Cobra Yoga Pose

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on July 21, 2022
6 min read

The cobra pose stretches your upper body. We look at the correct way to do the cobra pose, its benefits, and when you should avoid doing it.

The cobra pose (Bhujangasana) is a part of a sun salutation (Suryanamaskar) and is a very effective heart-opening back bend that stretches your upper body and several muscle groups.

The Bhujangasana (pronounced bhu-jung-a-suh-na) is derived from the word “bhujanga.” “Bhujanga” in Sanskrit means serpent or snake, and asana means posture.

That’s why this pose is called the cobra pose, as it symbolizes the posture of a cobra with its hood raised.

This pose is a substitute for the upward-facing dog pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) as per the Vinyasa sequence that mentions several asanas for those who are in the early days of learning yoga. The Vinyasa approach to yoga teaches fluent movements that directly take you from one pose to the next.

But the specific sequence of poses may vary depending on the instructor. Vinyasa yoga is sometimes also called Ashtanga yoga. Although it’s a sequence that’s usually taught to beginners, it’s a highly efficient pose which is why you should take your time to learn it.

There are some prerequisites for the cobra pose. Professional yoga instructors recommend doing this asana only when you’re completely fit, as this allows you to get the maximum benefit from the pose.

Be sure to do this asana with a four-hour gap after you’ve had a meal. This is important since you’ll be lying down on your stomach and also stretching your abdominal muscles during the pose.

If you’ve not given yourself enough time after a meal to do this asana, you might feel uncomfortable while doing it.

Yoga instructors also recommend doing some simple warm-up exercises and stretches that help loosen the muscles in your arms, neck, shoulders, and back, as these are the main muscle groups worked when you do the cobra pose.

The best time to do the cobra pose is in the morning. But if mornings aren’t suitable for you for any reason, you may also do it in the evening.

In addition to the warm-up exercises and stretches, you can also do a few other poses that help you ease into the cobra pose.

You can seamlessly slip into the cobra pose after you’ve done some preparatory poses such as the Adho Mukhasvanasana (downward-facing dog pose) and Salamba Bhujangasana (sphinx pose).

Once you’ve done these poses a few times, you can move into the cobra pose by following these steps.

You can either do the pose on the floor or on a yoga mat.

Step 1. Lie down on the floor on your stomach and keep your toes flat on the ground with your soles facing upwards. 

Step 2. Keep your entire body flat including your face, such that your forehead touches the ground.

Step 3. Place your legs close to each other with your feet lightly touching each other at the heels and the toes.

Step 4. Now, as you’re lying down, take your hands and place them on either side of your shoulders in such a way that your palms are directly under your shoulders. As you place your palms underneath your shoulders, your elbows should be close to your chest, parallel to each other, and as close to the floor as possible.

Step 5. At this point, your body is still completely flat on the ground except for your elbows, which are slightly raised and right next to your torso. Now take a deep breath in and first raise your head slowly followed by your chest and abdomen. Make sure that your navel is not raised and is still touching the floor.

Step 6. As you raise your torso from the ground using the support of your hands, put equal pressure on both the palms and raise only your upper body as you breathe in. Be totally aware of this upward movement and curve your spine, vertebra by vertebra.

Step 7. Continue to put pressure on your hands and keep moving up till your hands are fully extended and at the same time arch your back to the maximum extent possible. Make sure that even as you extend your arms and curve your spine, your navel stays in contact with the floor and is not lifted.

Step 8. Once you’ve reached the maximum point of your upward curve, tilt your head back in such a way that your face is moving towards the ceiling. Doing this helps you extend the stretch in your chest and abdominal muscles.

Step 9. Once you’ve reached the position explained in step 8, maintain the pose for as long as possible. Continue taking long deep breaths as you hold the pose. Make sure that you are aware of your breath and are in total control. The pose which allows you to breathe easily without any discomfort is the ideal position for you. With regular practice, you’ll be able to stretch more and curve your spine further.

Step 10. After a few deep breaths in the pose explained in step 8, gently breathe out and slowly bring your torso down. Once again, while you do this motion, be aware of your outgoing breath and every inch of movement. First let your abdomen touch the ground, followed by your chest, and finally your shoulders and head.

Step 11. Relax your body once it’s completely touching the ground. Repeat this sequence four to five times with complete attention to your breath and the movement of your torso.

One of the sutras (principles) while doing yoga poses is the Sanskrit saying “Sthira Sukham Asanam.” This millennia-old sutra states that you should be comfortable and still while doing an asana. “Sthira” in Sanskrit means steady, “Sukha” means comfortable, and “Asana” means pose.

Note the below points while doing the cobra pose.

  • Make sure that all your movements are smooth and steady. Avoid jerks and overdoing any stretch. Stretch only up to where you’re comfortable.
  • Be aware of your shoulder and avoid locking it when you extend your arms during the upward motion. Also, keep your shoulders close to your ears at all times.
  • Keep your feet close to each other at all times.
  • Observe your breath during the entire sequence and ensure that it's smooth. This is important when you’re holding the pose after completing the upward motion.
  • In the classical cobra pose, the neck is arched back as an extension of the spine. Make sure that you don’t jam your neck back or throw it back in a sudden movement.
  • The main purpose of the cobra pose is the extension of the spine while being completely aware of the curving of each vertebra. Sometimes this movement may become extreme and could lead to your body forming an L-shape at your hips/waist. If your body has gone into an L-shape, it means that you’ve gone too high and should bring yourself down a few inches.
  • Make sure that you don’t clench your gluteal muscles (the muscles in your buttocks). Instead, keep them relaxed.
  • If you’re doing the cobra pose for the first time, you may not be able to curve your spine much. This is okay. With regular practice, you’ll be able to curve your spine more.

Although the cobra pose is relatively simple, it has many health benefits.

  • It reduces lower back stiffness
  • It stretches the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and abdomen
  • The opening of the muscles in your chest improves the passages in your heart and lungs
  • It conditions the spinal muscles
  • It strengthens your arms and shoulders
  • It tones the gluteal muscles
  • It enhances blood circulation in the spinal and pelvic regions

You can try some variations of the cobra pose depending on your level of comfort.

Curved hands cobra pose. This is also known as Vakra Hasta Bhujangasana. In this variation, you don’t have to fully extend your arms. Your arms are curved at the elbows when you do the upward curve and this puts more pressure on them.

Half cobra pose. This is also called the Ardha Bhujangasana. In this variation, your hands from your palms up to the elbow are placed flat on the floor (like an Egyptian sphinx) while you continue the upward curve.

While the cobra pose is relatively simple, you should avoid doing it in certain scenarios, such as: 

  • If you’re pregnant
  • If you have a wrist or rib fracture
  • If you’re having a bout of asthma
  • If you have carpal tunnel syndrome
  • If you’ve recently had surgeries in your abdominal region
  • If you have spondylitis
  • Avoid doing this pose if you have any existing back conditions, or check with a qualified yoga instructor before doing it