Let’s say you are limited (for some reason) to choose only one asana for yoga every day – Bhujangasana (cobra pose) will be a very wise choice.
The human backbone probably never experienced such stress in its 200,000-year history of evolution, as it is today. Long hours of sitting, constant quarrels over computers and mobile phones and lack of physical activity put enormous pressure on the back bone.
The hindbone plays a very important role in our overall health. It hosts the spinal cord – the expansion of the brain – it transmits signals from the brain to all parts of the body. Back problems can cause nerve compression – and the affected nerves can lead to numbness, pain, and loss of function of any other part of the body.
The hindbone also holds the body upright and provides the stability and flexibility necessary for all body movements. A strong back relieves pressure from the entire musculoskeletal structure, allowing it to efficiently and easily transfer the loads for which it is created. On the contrary, the weak back passes additional load on other parts of the muscular skeleton. This is the reason why back pain is often accompanied by pain in all joints – shoulders, knees and ankles.
Most likely, in 100,000 years, human beings will evolve to have a stronger back that can cope with what we throw into it – but now we need to manage and give our back all possible help, for our own sake.
So we come to Bhujangasana. Simply put, Bhujangasana is the elixir for your back – it will make your smile smile again. It stretches the entire spine – cervical, thoracic and lumbar – relieves stress, relaxes and restores strength and elasticity. This is one asana recommended by physiotherapists around the world for all kinds of back and spinal problems.
How to make Bhujangasan
1. Lie on your stomach and relax.
Lay down in a lying position (on the stomach). Keep your feet connected – from your hips to your toes.
Make sure your feet, ankles are down, are horizontal along the floor, and not positioned vertically to the floor. This small, very common mistake can change the amount of load that your back will carry during the asana, and can lead to significantly suboptimal results.
In a relaxed position, fold your arms, one palm to the other and place your chin on top. Breathe normally. Watch your back (and your body) move with your breathing. Try to expand and squeeze your back to find a position where the back muscles are relaxed, and the back bone keeps the natural curvature.
2. Lift your head
Place your hands under your shoulders, arms crossed on your elbows. Gently lift your head, breathing normally. Look forward. Hold this position for half a minute – breathe normally, as you do. Feel the extension of the cervical spine and your upper back muscles stretch to hold your weight.
You can control the amount of weight on the back, carrying the weight from your back to your arms and back. Try it!
Return to position 1 (relaxed position).
3. Raise your upper body, chest up
Place your hands on your chest, fold your arms on your elbows, and touch the sides of the chest. Slowly lift your chest up while it breathes normally. Look forward. Hold this position for half a minute – breathe normally, as you do. Feel the expansion of your thoracic spine and your upper back muscles stretch to hold your weight.
Most of us prefer one hand over the other, so your weight can be skewed to one side of the back. Bring both hands into action so that you feel pressure in the center of the back along the back bone.
Slowly return to position 1.
4. Raise the upper body up, waist up
Place the palms next to your body, between the chest and the waist, with the arms folded on the elbows. Slowly lift the chest up, and then up until it breathes normally. Your lower body now comes in contact with the floor, and the upper part of the body is curved.
Look. Hold this position for half a minute – breathe normally, as you do. Feel your whole spine – cervical, thoracic and lumbar.
Do not give in to the desire to straighten your arms – your elbows should remain bent. Straightening the elbows removes weight from your back, negating the advantages of asana.
Also, note if you involuntarily push out your elbows – if so, bring them back closer to your body. It is in this position that the spinal column and muscles around it receive the best training.
Remember that you can control the strain on the spine by carrying some of it to your arms. In addition, keep breathing normally, everywhere.
Slowly return to position 1.
5. Supta Bhujangasana – the last frontier
As the back muscles become more elastic, and the back becomes more flexible, you can turn your back more and more.
Bend your back completely and fold your legs in your lap. In the final position, your legs will touch your head.
If you can reach this last limit, you no longer need to worry about your back – its ideal shape!
It looks impossible, does not it?
Is not. If you do this asana every day, you can arch your back, say, a centimeter every day. After about 3 months, you can easily perform the Bhutjangasana Suppta!
There is a variant of Bhujangasana where you can straighten your elbows.
Start at position 1, where you have your hands, one palm on the other, and your chin rests on top.
Re-block the fingers, and then press down with your elbows until it is fully straightened. Your back will be collapsed automatically. Feel the stretching in the lower (lumbar) spine and the surrounding muscles going to the hip and waist.
- You would already understand that poses are just steps. The goal is to gradually strengthen and stretch the spine. Do not try to force yourself to reach a position based on the fact that someone does it, believing that attaining a position is vital. Is not. Poses are intermediate steps in the continuum. You are your best guide. Stretch as much as possible – with a smile on your face. If you grimace – you overdo it.
Rule of thumb – if you feel a small amount of pain that subsides when you hold a pose, its fine. If the pain remains constant or increases as you hold a pose, you are probably stretching too much.
- The positions of the levers are indicative. While your elbows are bent, your hands are close to your body, and your legs are joined, you can experiment with where you put your hands – below your shoulders, slightly in front of your shoulders, somewhere between your chest and waist, next to your waist. Try these positions and see how the weight moves to different parts of your spine, stretching it and building up adjacent muscles.
- Continue breathing normally, everywhere. Do not inhale when climbing, and do not exhale, when you return to the base position – rise and slowly lower, while breathing normally. Do not try to hold your breath to achieve a better stretch. Yes, you can stretch more if you hold your breath. But then you will not know if you are overloading yourself until you start to breathe normally.
Most of the injuries of Yoga are due to the fact that people hold their breath and overexert themselves, trying to achieve “this final position.” If you continue to breathe normally, it is almost impossible to reach a position that is too painful to endure.
Who should avoid Bhujangasana
- Those who have had serious spinal cord injuries, or undergone surgical interventions on the spine, should be very careful not to overextend themselves when performing this asana.
- Pregnant women should avoid this asana – indeed any asana, which is done in a prone position.
- Those who suffer from hernias or stomach ulcers
- Restores the elasticity and natural curvature of the entire spine – cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine
- Strengthens the muscles of the back and adjacent muscles – neck, shoulders, lower abdomen, hips and groin.
- Relieves stress from hands and feet.
- Corrects postural problems
- Expands Chest
- Removes headaches, whose origin can be associated with problems of the spine, especially in the cervical region
- Improves digestion and relieves constipation