Raja Bhujangasana (King Cobra Pose) has carved out its place in the contemporary yoga canon as more than just a preparatory variation of Rajakapotasana (King Pigeon Pose). This striking asana incorporates the four elements to craft a balanced and challenging heart opener:
1. the hips root into the earth for stability and grounding
2. the spine and upper body float up and back with a liquid fluidity to wash away pain and tension
3. the lungs widen forward and out energizing the body with breath, air, and life,
4. and the expanded breath in the lungs flames the fire in navel and heart to destroy deep-hidden toxins from the body.
Raja Bhujangasana is considered an advanced asana with a build-up that requires significant time and practice. Please refrain from forcing your body into a bent shape just because it looks trendy online. Building up to this pose is about the journey of opening your heart to possibilities (that one day your toes will reach your head...and that you will be kinder and more open-hearted).
When you open your heart fully, remember what you are opening your heart towards. In this practice, remember to be patient and kind to yourself always.
Poses to Prepare for King Cobra Pose
Before practicing these preparatory poses, fire up your body with three to five Surya Namaskar A cycles and three to five Surya Namaskar B cycles.
1. Cat Stretch/Cow Tilt with Focus on the Shoulders
Slowly warm up the spine and chest with daily practice of five to ten rounds of Cat Stretch and Cow Tilt. Ideally, these movements are done slowly, with extra focus on the shoulder movement—shoulders pressing away from the spine in Cat Stretch, and the shoulders pressing down the spine and away from the ears in Cow Tilt.
This is also a great time to build strength in straight arms and wrists sending energy down to the ground.
2. Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose) Variations on the Wall
Ustrasana and Kapotasana are extremely deep and challenging backbends. In these progressive variations, we build toward Raja Bhujangasana.
First, practice with the body facing away from the wall, shoelace sides of the feet release towards the floor so the sacrum can lengthen down and widen out. With the body facing away from the wall, gently walk the hands down the wall towards the feet.
At first, the shoulders might be too tight for the hands to even meet the wall. Eventually, you’ll have more flexibility in the shoulders and the arms so you can start to walk further down toward the floor. Avoid bringing the arms out too wide, try to keep them shoulder distance apart. One day, the forearms will meet the wall and you’ll be able to press them into the wall, causing the thighs to reverberate open in the opposite direction.
3. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana II (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose II)
We often forget the amount of flexibility and openness need in the front half of the body when we practice deep backbends. Raja Bhujangasana demands openness of the groin, upper spine, and chest, and it’s one of the few asanas that I teach where the knee can go in front of the ankle.
Be mindful to create a base position where the hips are square and the legs are both at 90-degree angles before the hips move forward, bringing the knee in front of the ankle. The back leg should gently lift and naturally bend, do not squeeze the back legs up. Use lots of straps and patience in this pose.
4. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) Progression
Start with strengthening the core and back in Baby Cobra Pose and eventually move upward to full Bhujangasana. Specifically in this progression, focus on relaxing the glutes and butt muscles so the sacrum can widen and the pubis can ground into the earth. Constantly practice reaching the shoulders down the back and away from the ears.
Ready for King Cobra?
Finally you are ready to tackle the menacing pose known as Raja Bhujangasana.Take a few breaths and allow your upper body to lift and expand, the back to naturally bend, and the head to look up. Simultaneously, allow the legs to bend naturally at the knees.
Straighten the arms and relax the shoulders away from the ears. Engage the abdominal muscles and enjoy the elegance of this extreme heart-opener and backbend!
This practice is best done slowly and with great care to the tenderness your mind, body, and soul. We have a spirit inside us ready to strike, and backbends like Raja Bhujangasana allow us to step into our strength as well as shed old skins of melancholy and pain.
After this practice, enjoy some time in Balasana (Child’s Pose), Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose), and Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Image credit: Andrea Taylor