I?m not completely afraid of snakes, as I grew up in a wooded part of Texas and there were rattlesnakes, green snakes, water moccasins, and other sorts of slivering creatures in great abundance there. I later lived in Hawaii and it is an island without any snakes altogether, so my acquaintance with them was temporarily distanced. I was reintroduced to snakes while staying at an ashram in Nasik, India, where my friends and I came across many of them. Some came to visit us on our front door stoops, and sometimes, we would come across them slivering along the side of a dirt road on a walk to a nearby village. Indians have a different attitude toward snakes than most of us here in the west, and they are wise to. At my ashram, nor in the surrounding vicinity, there were no doctors or clinics with anti-venom should someone be bitten. We were taught to watch out for them, and just give them their space, and that they would usually leave us alone. When they came a little too close once during a yoga asana session, a long pole and a burlap bag was used to entice a cobra in striking stance into a new home a few meters away in the rice paddies. The ancient yogis used nature and its creatures to model their poses after, being surrounded with it, and more in tune with its workings than many of us living in large cities with a thousand technological devices to keep us entertained. The cobra is a symbol of strength and power, and sexual virility due to its benefits in the asana named after it: Bhujangasana.
Benefits of Bhujangasana
Bhujangasana has numerous benefits. It strengthens the spinal column from the top of the head to the tailbone, as well as the muscles which must support the spine in upright-standing humans. It strengthens and stretches the deep abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominus which are often neglected in many other exercise regiments (even though yoga is not exercise, per se). It also helps to stimulate all the organs of digestion, and therefore relieves constipation, and bloating. It helps to alleviate excessive toxins, including salts form the body that could otherwise form into kidney stones. If you already have small kidney stones, cobra pose can help the body to eliminate them with more ease. It helps to address menstrual issues in women and reduces cramping. It helps to increase ling capacity, and strengthen the heart, as well as developing better circulation throughout the body. It helps to alleviate back pain even in the case of slipped or herniated disc (but may need to be practiced in a modified position). Cobra pose also stimulates the flow of energy through Swadhistana Chakra, the second primary chakra along the spinal column, and thus helps to prevent many sexual dysfunctions, such as premature ejaculation in men, and inability to climax for women. For this reason, it is a good posture to incorporate into your practice if you are attempting to become pregnant. Cobra pose also helps to straighten bad posture, since many of us rarely bend the spine with this kind of flexion in our daily activities, and helps to correct the slumped posture that so often accompanies driving, typing and other modern activities which we do repetitively for many hours a day. With so many benefits, it is not surprising that most regular asana series include Bhujangasana. The asana is included in Surya Namaskara for this reason as well.
How to perform Bhujangasana
To practice this asana, lie prone on the floor, with your belly down. Bring the feet and legs together. The toenails should face the floor. Inhale and bring the palms of the hands face down to chest level on the floor, and gently peel the upper body of the floor on an exhale. Keep rising until the navel no longer touches the floor. Try to draw the tailbone towards the feet, lift and expand the heart and make sure that the shoulders stay down away from the ears. If your shoulders are slumping, you may need to modify the pose, keeping a bend in the elbows, and reducing the backbend, or slightly part the heels to take pressure off the lower spine. You can also modify the asana by leaving the hands at chest level and just bring the chest only off the floor, working on drawing the shoulders back and down. The gaze can be straight ahead, whilst lifting the crown of the head toward the sky, or for preparation for more advanced back-bending asana, look up and back, lifting out of the low back and the base of the neck. This will deepen the stretch into the throat and deeper into the rectus abdominus or lower belly muscles. Hold for several deep breaths, and slowly release by bending at the elbows until the body is completely flat on the floor. It is wise to always follow a back-bending asana by a forward-bending asana. From here, you can sit back into Balasana (Child?s Pose), or rise into Downward Facing Dog, and then to a Standing Forward Fold.
Modifications for Bhujangasana
To encourage gluteal strength, gently squeeze the buttocks and press the pelvic bone toward the floor. Also, to build the tricepts for other asana, such as arm balances and Chataranga, keep the elbows close to the body and practice releasing in super slow motion, using the muscles at the back or the arms all the way down. From here, press into Ashtanga Position, and once again, use the arms to slowly press back into Balasana. Just practicing this slow release both on the way down and on the way up, can greatly strengthen muscles of the arms which are often neglected, especially in women. Also, you can practice coming into Cobra, and then, while inhaling and then exhaling, take the gaze over one shoulder, and then on the next exhale, draw the gaze forward. Do the same on the other side, using the breath to join the body and mind. Try to keep the shoulders down as you turn the head, and the chest lifted and open.
Variations of Bhujangasana
Ekapadsahajhasta Bhujangastana ? This asana is very much like regular cobra pose, only from Hastashirasana (similar to Vajrasana), take the left leg straight back behind the body, maintaining the front posture, and allow the hips to sink towards the floor. Breathe deeply and switch the legs out, bringing the left leg in to thunderbolt position and the right leg straight out behind you.
Dwipadasahajhasta Bhujangastana ? This is also often called easy hand Cobra Pose. Begin from Hastashirasana but take one leg out then the other, leaving both legs straight behind you and maintaining the forearms on the floor and the hands interlaced on the floor. Breathe deeply. In both this posture and Ekapadsahajhasta Bhujangastana the digestion is aided and the spine is lengthened and straightened.
Contraindications for Bhujangasana
Bhujangasana is contraindicated for those who are pregnant or with wrist, shoulder or neck pain. It is also advisable to modify this asana if back pain ensues when practicing. Try parting the feet, or coming up only slightly from the floor.
Pictures of Bhujangasana
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Videos of Bhujangasana