observe that the leg, thigh, hip, and back muscles all remain relaxed. You are not going anywhere with the isometric lift and pull with the arms; you are only creating a mild traction in the back that encourages relaxation.
This exercise protects the lower back just as effectively as keeping the hips and thighs firm because the back and lower extremities automatically stay relaxed as you hit up. The oddity of protecting yourself with both mechanisms at the same time will be obvious if you come into the posture and then tighten muscles generally from the waist down.
Notice how this posture affects your breathing. The tension on the chest from the arms and shoulders keeps it immobilized, in contrast to the diaphragm-assisted lift in the classic cobra and the previous variation. Most of the respiratory movement is felt as abdominal breathing exactly as in the stretched crocodile posture (fig. 2.23): the lower back lifts with each inhalation as the dome of the diaphragm descends, and the lower back drops toward the floor with each exhalation as the dome of the diaphragm rises.
creating thaction with the hands and arms
For this variation start with the hands alongside the chest, the heels and toes together, and the chin rather than the forehead on the floor. Then, instead of creating traction with the elbows and forearms, create it by pressing the heels of the hands toward the feet isometrically. This is similar to creating traction by pulling from the elbows, but the action is more difficult to control. You started this posture with just enough tension in the lower extremities to hold the feet together. Now try to let that melt away. Also try to minimize your tendency to push the torso up with the hands, even though that is hard to avoid while you are creating tension for pulling forward. This is a demanding whole-body concentration exercise. Notice how your breathing differs from that in the previous variation. The chest is not restricted—the diaphragm both flares the chest wall from its lower border and lifts the upper body, creating diaphragmatic rather than abdominal breathing.
For this variation, start with your chin on the floor, the hands in the standard Position alongside the chest, the heels and toes together, and the hips squeezed together. Then inhale while lifting your head and shoulders, and exhale back down untU your chin touches the floor, breathing at the rate of about four breaths every ten seconds. You can experiment with keeping the hips somewhat relaxed, but it is more natural to keep them firm so that inhalations hft you higher. This exercise differs from the classic cobra in that it involves constant movement. You come all the way up and all the Way down using a combination of the diaphragm and the back muscles,
28« ANATOMY OF HATHA YtK.A
while in the cobra you hold the position as much as possible with the bai muscles alone and allow the diaphragm to bob you up and down from ther A nice variation on this exercise is to turn your head to one side or tl • other with each inhalation, inhale, up (right); exhale, down (cento inhale, up (left); exhale, down (center); and continuing with a natu» I cadence for 10-20 breaths. During each successive inhalation, twist m< e insistently, lift more insistently, and expand your inspiratory capacity s much as possible with empowered thoracic breathing. This is a power J and yet natural and comfortable exercise.
the diaphragmatic rear lift
The next several variations of the cobra depend on reviewing the diaphragm; ic rear lift (fig. 2.11). Summarizing from chapter 2, come into the stand, d preparatory posture lor the classic cobra except that now the chin inst d of the forehead is against the floor. Relax the entire body, especially bel w the chest, and then breathe deeply while keeping the chest and chin agai st the floor. Provided the deep back muscles, hips, and thighs are all frei if tension, inhalation will arch the back and lift the hips, and exhalation 11 allow the lumbar region to flatten and drop the hips back down. At fi t, breathe quickly, almost as in the bellows exercise, and then slow y< ir respiration down to observe the finer changes in tension and movement n chapter 2 this exercise illustrated the connections of the diaphragm. H e it illustrates how lifting the hips (instead of the base of the rib cage) v . h the diaphragm creates another variation of diaphragm-assisted backbendi g.
another cobra with relaxed lower extremities
This next variation involves doing the cohra with the lower extremi es completely relaxed, which is a posture that will challenge the concentrat >n of even advanced students. Start with your chin on the floor and let) ir feet fall slightly apart into the position in which you will be most rela d (heels in and toes out, or vice versa). Then slowly lift the head and ch -t, monitoring muscles in the lower half of the body to make sure they do >>t contribute to the lifting effort. This is easy enough at first, but it start to feel unnatural as you rise more fully into the posture. Come up as fai >s you can, hold, and then come down slowly. Keep checking to make sure >u do not feel a wave of relaxation on your way down, indicating that iu tensed up as you lifted into the posture.
It's the gluteal muscles that are the most difficult to hold back in 1 is pose. When you lift up into the cobra, you ordinarily support the effort of the deep back muscles by bracing the pelvis with the gluteus maximus muse s> and this insures that the erector spinae and other deep back muscles will I; ft only the upper part of the body. But if you relax from the waist down. I e
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