Having a misaligned Cobra Pose can lead to back pain, neck problems, and shoulder tension, so it is important that you pay close attention to where your body parts are and what you are pressing into.
Remember also that each level of the pose will use slightly different aspects of your musculature, so on occasion it is good for your body to visit the less deep variations even if you know you can push all the way through to a more advanced stretch.
Here are some of the common misalignments in Cobra Pose, and how you can go about fixing them!
1. To Lift, or Not to Lift?
Unlike Up Dog, in Cobra Pose your hips stay on the floor to entice a deeper stretch across the entire frontal plane of your body without any weight lifting. When you first start practicing, your hips and psoas might be tight, so it is common to see people hovering their hips off the ground in order to lift their chest more.
Stop, rewind, drop your hips, grow some patience, and be ok with the simple fact that your chest will not come up as high today.
Once you start deepening the posture, this “hips-down” cue becomes vital; as you bend the knees and reach the toes to the head behind you, if your hips are not on the floor you won’t be supported in your back bend.
Safety first -- always.
2. Shoulders Meeting Your Ears?
Lifting your shoulders up to your ears in any pose means you are not lengthening your spine and relaxing your shoulders.
In Cobra Pose specifically, this action also stops your chest from opening fully, and it feels crunchy around the neck. It can also misplace your weight into your low back and cause back pain later on.
To open your Cobra Pose up more, try melting your shoulders down away from your head as much as you can, then press them back behind you.
3. Hunching Forward?
Having your shoulders lean forward as if you are hunched over your desk or phone will make this pose less juicy for your upper back.
Try taking your hands a little wider, then press your heart forward between your arms and direct it up towards your chin. This small adjustment paired with the previous shoulder drop will help keep the shoulders, back, and chest forward so that you can reap all the lung and heart benefits of the pose.
4. Back Ache?
Not engaging your shoulders and core in Cobra means you are dumping a lot of weight into your spine.
Bend your elbows more and squeeze them into your ribs, then pull your belly in and imagine you are pressing your ribs away from your hips while keeping your belly engaged. This helps you support your weight without lifting those hips up, in turn taking some of the weight out of your back and putting it in your shoulders.
With less weight being held in your spinal muscles you are much safer, and will erase your back pain.
5. Catching Flies
Ok, ok, not a very nice way to phrase it, but this is actually pretty serious for your neck and breath. If you tend to throw your head back in this pose with your eyes and mouth wide open and the balls of your shoulders touching your temples, you are probably stressing out your neck and closing off your trachea, which will affect your ability to breathe.
Fix it by lessening your enthusiasm (something I never usually say!) and keeping your chin to your chest. Your neck is not an extension of the spine -- it is part of the S-curve in your spine. When you do lift your chin, be respectful of your breath and only go as far as is comfortable to maintain that smooth, deep Ujjayi breath.
In a Vinyasa class you will use Cobra a lot, so take it slow throughout each practice. Set yourself up to start shallow, and work towards a deeper Cobra with every flow. By the end of your practice your spine will be more supple, your shoulders will be stable and strong, and your hips and heart will be open to your day.
Do you have any alignment tips for Cobra Pose? Share them with the rest of the community in the comments below!