King Cobra (Raja Bhujanghasana) is one of those poses that seems like a pipe dream. You see it in the pages of yoga journal or in super fancy “advanced” yoga classes, but it’s not a pose that is featured much in most classes you take – you might hear it suggested as a challenging modification to an already challenging full cobra. So when I learned this version at the wall at a weekend intensive with Tias, I almost jumped for joy. I love finding ways to make these seemingly impossible poses possible.
Also – it’s fun. Sometimes, amidst all the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of the yoga practice, I feel like teachers can forget that one of the reasons that we stuck with a consistent practice in the first place is that it’s fun! Yoga is a very serious business in many ways, but I have to say that one of my favorite moments of teaching is when a student came up to me after class and said, “That was fun!?” Her shocked smile was worth 1000 samadhis to me.
It’s no secret on this blog that I love backbends. I particularly like this one because the wall and floor help you engage your legs strongly enough to keep the backbend out of the lumbar spine. And it looks really pretty. Because you must engage your legs so strongly, it’s a great quad strengthener. Your shoulders, arms and back work a lot as well.
Start by lying down on your tummy with your knees bent and your shins against the wall. You want to be able to push strongly into the floor with your thigh bones and into the wall with your shins so make sure you’ve got as close to a right angle as possible (baseboards nonwithstanding).
Bring your hands next to the body near your low ribs. Your elbows should be hugged into the body like they would be in chaturanga or baby cobra. Your shoulder blades begin to move into the spine towards one another.
Push down into the floor with your thigh bones, into the wall with your shins and tuck your tailbone to protect the lower back. Press down through the hands to begin to lift the chest. If you’ve tucked your tailbone, your pelvis should tilt up and your abs should be off the floor.
Once you’ve got this shape, you can work on finding the backbend. Lift your upper back/chest up and bring your shoulders back and down. Keeping pressing strongly through your legs – you shouldn’t be feeling much in your lower back – if it’s crunching you need to come back down and try again. The backbend should happen in the middle part of the spine.
Finally, you can play with bring the head back toward the feet for the full expression of the pose. Make sure your shoulders stay relaxed down and away from your ears. Try holding this for 5 breaths.
To come out of the pose, bring your head back to neutral and bend your elbows straight back as you lower all the way down to the mat and rest.
I want to hear from you! Is fun an important component of your yoga practice? What poses do you turn to when you want a playful, light sequence?