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the advanced cobra

To do the advanced cobra, start from the same beginning position as he classic cobra, with the forehead on the floor and the fingertips in line v th the nipples. Next, brush your nose and chin along the floor and slowly - ^ lifting the head and chest with the back muscles. Then, keeping the 1 ck muscles engaged, slowly start to straighten the elbows until you 1 ,ve extended the back and neck to their limits. The extent to which the elb ws are straightened will be a reflection of how much the spine is extender as well as a reflection of the lengths of the arms and forearms. Beginners vill not be able to come up very far, and it will be rare for even advai ed students to straighten their elbows completely. It's not necessary any ay. The idea of this posture is to keep everything active. The deep ick muscles, specifically, should be monitored constantly to make sure the; ire supporting the lift and not relaxing as the forearms extensors irt contributing to the posture.

Keeping the back muscles active sounds like it ought to be easy, bi for those whose spines are inflexible these muscles will be working again- he antagonistic actions of the iliacus and psoas muscles, which maintaii he first line of protection for restricting the bend, as well as the abdoi nal muscles, which stay tight to maintain the intra-abdominal pressure tl t is so important for minimizing strain on the intervertebral disks. It .- a natural temptation to simply relax and support the posture entirely ith the upper extremities. Don't do it. That's more like the next posturi the upward-facing dog.

As you progress in your practice of the advanced cobra, you will grat' illy become confident and flexible enough to allow the iliopsoas muscles ind the abdominal muscles to lengthen eccentrically and even relax wit >ut releasing tension in the back muscles, and when that happens the ick muscles will contribute to extension more effectively. The last step, ter acclimating to the posture in its essential form, is to draw the feet to1 ird the head (fig. 5.12).

Figure 5.12. In the advanced cobra, highly flexible students can bend their lumbar spines 90° and touch their feet to their head. For most students spinal and hip inflexibility (along with resistant hip flexors and abdominal muscles) limit coming fully into this pose.

Figure 5.12. In the advanced cobra, highly flexible students can bend their lumbar spines 90° and touch their feet to their head. For most students spinal and hip inflexibility (along with resistant hip flexors and abdominal muscles) limit coming fully into this pose.

5. BACKBE\DI\G PUSTl 'RES 2y3

As with the supported intermediate cobra, it is most important to keep the chest lifted and the shoulders pulled down and back. Nothing will violate this posture as certainly as allowing the chest to hang passively between the arms. And if you take the option of bending the knees and pulling the feet toward the head, be careful of stressing the ligaments that surround the knee joint.

Breathing issues in the advanced cobra are similar to those for the supported posture. The diaphragm will contribute to keeping the pose stable and restrict the bend for those who are less flexible, and it will deepen the backbend for those who find themselves flexible enough to come convincingly into the posture. In general, the advanced pose will not be very rewarding for anyone who is not flexible enough to sense that the diaphragm is either deepening the bend or creating tension for doing so, as well as getting out of the way of empowered thoracic breathing.

the upward-facing dog postures

The upward-facing dog is not a cobra posture, but it begins in the same way and then goes one or two steps beyond. It is like a suspension bridge. The arms and forearms support the posture from above, the knees or feet support it from below, and the chest, abdomen, pelvis, and thighs are suspended between. Four variations are presented here, and in each one you support your weight differently.

To prepare for the upward-facing dog, start with the chin on the floor, the hands alongside the chest a little lower than for the cobra, the feet together, and the toes extended. Slowly lift the head and then the shoulders, keeping the muscles of the lower extremities engaged. As soon as you reach your limit of lifting with the back muscles, extend the elbows slowly, lifting your body even higher until your weight is supported by the arms, knees, and the tops of the feet. It is important to do this without relaxing the back muscles (fig. 5.13). The pose should be active front and back. Those who are especially flexible will have to keep the abdominal muscles engaged to avoid dropping the pelvis to the floor; those who are not flexible will not have this difficulty because their abdominal muscles are already tense. As in the advanced cobra, lift the head, neck, and chest. Don't allow the chest to hang passively between the shoulders. Come down in reverse order, taking a long time to merge the releasing of forearm extension into supporting the posture entirely with the deep back muscles.

Now try the same exercise with the toes flexed instead of extended. Keeping your knees on the floor and supporting yourself on the balls of the feet at the same time makes this a tighter posture because now the gastrocnemius muscles in the back of the calf are stretched. This places

294 ANATOM) OF HATHA ttx.A

additional tension on the quadriceps femoris muscles, which (among th r other roles) are antagonists to the gastrocnemius muscles; the tension n the quadriceps femoris is in turn translated to the front of the pelvis iy way of the rectus femoris. The tension from the rectus femoris tl n restricts how far the pelvis can drop toward the floor. It's easy to prove [f you go back and forth between the two postures you'll feel immediat ly how the two alternative toe positions affect the pelvis—toes flexed < d curled under, the pelvis is lifted; toes extended back, the pelvis drops.

In the full upward-facing dog, the knees are extended and you re supporting yourself between the hands and feet instead of between ie hands and knees. This is a whole-body commitment requiring a lot n i-e muscular tension in the quadriceps femoris muscles than the simi >r posture. You can support your weight on your feet either with the t es flexed (iig. 5.14) or with the toes extended to the rear. Try both positii is. Neit her one is stressful if your feet are comfortable.

Breathing mechanics in the upward-facing dog are different from ay other posture because the body is suspended in mid-air. You can easily ck back and forth or move from side to side like a suspension bridge in ie wind, and this freedom of movement allows for deep thoracic inhalati ns and yet permits the diaphragm to deepen the backbend even in studi its who are not very flexible.

the open-air cobra

This exercise requites good strength and athletic ability, healthy knees, id a prop made up of two cushioned planks; one (cushioned 011 top) is sev al feet off the floor, and another (cushioned on its underneath side) is slig ly higher and situated to the rear of the first. The front plank will support ie body at the level of the mid-thighs, and the rear plank will prevent the ki es from flexing and the feet from flying up. Such a contraption is often foui in health clubs. You will climb into the apparatus and lie in a prone posii >n. The thighs will be supported from below by the front plank and the ca. es will be anchored in place from above by the rear plank. First, you allow he torso to hang down, flexed forward from the hips. From this position, )U straighten the body and raise your head and shoulders as high as you in. The body from the thighs up will be suspended in mid-air as soon as you ift away from the floor.

This exercise is an excellent example of the manner in which gra\ ty operates in relation to muscular activity. Little effort is required to initi te the movement for swinging the torso up the first 45°. Then, as the b< ly comes toward the horizontal position you start getting more exercise. T is feels similar- to the classic cobra posture, except that it is more diffit It because you are lifting the body from the fulcrum of the thighs instead >f

5. BACKHENDING POSTl'M S 2g<i the pelvis. Then, as you arch up from that site you can begin to look right and left like a real cobra appraising its environment. Coming yet higher, the iliopsoas and abdominal muscles finally become the main line of resistance to the concentric activity of the back and neck muscles.

cobras for those with restricted mobility

The vertebral columns in older people sometimes become bent forward structurally, reverting to the fetal state of a single posterior curvature. The main problems with this, apart from not being able to stand up straight, are that the intervertebral disks have lost their fluidity, the joint capsules have become restricted, extraneous and movement-restricting deposits of bone have accumulated near joints, and muscles have become rigid. Those who have this condition are rarely able to lie comfortably on the floor in a prone position. But if they lie on cushions that support the body in a slightly flexed position and if the height of the cushions is adjusted carefully, all the simple variations of the cobra are feasible and will have beneficial effects throughout the body.

Figure 5.13. Upward-facing dog with knees down and toes extended. Come into this first of four dog postures systematically, and never hang between relaxed shoulders.

Figure 5.13. Upward-facing dog with knees down and toes extended. Come into this first of four dog postures systematically, and never hang between relaxed shoulders.

Figure 5.14. Upward-facing dog w'th knees up and toes flexed. Whole-body tension is required except in those who are so inflexible that their body structure keeps their thighs off the floor. The Pose is like a suspension bridge.

; ANATOMY OF HATHA YOGA

ashwini mudra and mula bandha in the cobras

Ashwini mudra (chapter 3) is more natural in the upward-facing dog tl in any other hatha yoga posture. The urogenital triangle is exposed. \e genitals are isolated from the floor, the muscles of the urogenital triar le are relaxed, the gluteal muscles are engaged, and the pelvic diaphragi is automatically pulled in. Mula bandha (chapter 3), on the other hand is natural in all of the postures in which the pelvis is resting against the fl >r, which means all the postures just covered with the exception of he upward-facing dog. Anyone who is confused about distinguishing betv en ashwini mudra and mula bandha can go back and forth between he upward-facing dog and an easy-does-it version of the classic cobra (in lis case with the heels and toes together but with the gluteal muscles relax d), and their confusion will vanish.

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