Of the many forms of backbending postures, the prone backbends—tl, cobra, locust, boat, and bow—are the most widely practiced in hatha yog In contrast to standing backbends, in which gravity assists your movemei into the postures and resists your efforts to come up, in the prone backben< you lift parts of the body away from the floor against the pull of gravity ai then return to your starting position with the aid of gravity Prone backbeni • are harder than standing backbends because you are trying to overran • the resistance of connective tissues and skeletal muscles on the front si> of the body while simultaneously opposing the force of gravity, hut they a easier because coming out of the postures does not have to involve anythi g more than dropping slowly to the floor.
The cobra posture is named for the manner in which the magnifies t king cobra lifts its head and flattens out its hood in preparation for striki g its prey. It is probably the most well-known prone backbending pose n hatha yoga. Considered along with all its variations, it is worth the attent i n of everyone from beginners to the most advanced students.
Every variation of the cobra and its close relatives begins from a pn e position and ends with the neck and back extended. In contrast to the caut n we exercised in extending the head and neck in standing backbends, we h e no reason to restrict that movement here, and we can work confidently v. h the cervical region without being concerned about losing our concentratioi >n the rest of the posture or getting lightheaded from cardiovascular respon s. Other characteristics of the postures vary. Depending on the specific exerr e, from the top down, you can start either with the forehead or the chin on le floor, the deep back muscles either active or relaxed, the hip and th h muscles firm or relaxed, the knees extended, relaxed, or flexed, and the 't together or apart.
the classic beginning cobra
To introduce the series of cobra postures, we'll begin with the classic beginr ig pose even though it is not the easiest one. Start with the hands along.1- le the chest, with the palms down, the fingertips in line with the nipples, ie heels and toes together, and the elbows close to the body. In this post re arch the neck enough to the rear to place the forehead against the fli ,r. thus creating a reverse cervical curvature (fig. 5.8). If that positioi is uncomfortable, you can start with the nose or chin against the floor. On in inhalation, slowly lift the forehead, brush the nose and chin against ie floor, and lift the head, neck, and chest slowly, vertebra by vertebra. I 'ft mainly with the back and neck muscles, using the hands only as guides Vs you extend the spine, try to create a lengthening feeling. You should bi ease; if you are straining you have come up too far. Try to remain in t
5. BACKBENDINCß PQSTl'Rb'S 285
posture, breathing evenly, for 10-20 seconds, and then come back down in reverse order, ending with the forehead against the floor. This is the classic beginning cobra (fig. 5.9). If you are a novice, you may do little more than raise your head, and it might appear as if this involves only the neck muscles. But even this slight movement will engage the deep back muscles from the head to the pelvis, and over time you will slowly develop the strength and flexibility to come up further.
To relax you can turn your head to one side and rest. If that is too stressful for your neck, you can place a large soft pillow under your chest and head, which permits your head to be twisted more moderately. Or another alternative is to twist a little more insistently and at the same time press the side of the head firmly against the floor with isometric contraction of the neck muscles, which will stimulate the Golgi tendon organs and cause reflex relaxation of the associated muscles. In any case, turn in the other direction after the next variation, and then alternate sides each time you do another.
Teachers often tell students to place their heels and toes together but to stay relaxed while coming up into the pose. That can be confusing because anyone who tries to do this will find that holding the heels and toes together
Figure 5.8. Classic cobra, starting position.
F'gure 5.9. In the classic cobra posture, the upper extremities serve mainly as guides, and the head and shoulders are lifted using the deep back muscles as Prime movers. The muscles of the hips and thighs then act as synergists for moderately bracing the pelvis.
in itself requires muscular activity. It is best to explain at the outset th. the classic cobra should be done with no more than moderate tension in tl lower extremities, and that the act of holding the heels and toes togeth« serves this purpose. Students should also pay close attention to the breathing; they will notice that each inhalation lifts their upper body ai 1 creates more pull in their lower back and hips.
the cobra with tight lower extremities
Now try a variation of the cobra with the lower extremities fixed solid With the chin against the floor, place the hands in the standard positii Then, keeping the feet together, tighten all the muscles from the hips o the ankles and lilt up as high as you can with the back muscles, lead g with the head and looking up. With the sacrum and pelvis stabilized by t e tension in the lower extremities, you will be using only the erector spin e muscles to create the initial lift. As soon as you are up, each inhalation v. II lift the torso even more, and each exhalation will lower it down; b< h movements result from the action of the diaphragm. Inhale and exh e maximally if you are confused. The respiratory motion is more appar it here than with the classic cobra because the lower extremities are 1 d more firmly in position. Except for the hand position, this posture is identical to the cobra variation we did in chapter 2 (fig. 2.10). There the movements of the upper body were discussed in terms of lifting the bas< if the rib cage in diaphragmatic breathing. The same thing happens h e except that now we're calling it a diaphragm-assisted backbend.
a relaxed cobra with mild traction in the back
If your lower back is tender the classic cobra will be uncomfortable, and ie most natural way to protect and strengthen the region will be to tigh n everything from the waist down as in the previous variation. But ther is an alternative—you can push up mildly into the cobra with the arms i a modified crocodile position. Instead of using the deep back musclet -o extend the spine, which pulls the vertebrae closer together and compres -s the intervertebral disks, we'll push up with the arms to lift the should« s, place traction on the lumbar region, and remove tension on the intervertel al disks.
Start this posture with the hands on top of one another just underne; h the forehead and with the elbows spraddled out to the side, or place I ie hands Hat on the floor with the thumbs and index fingers making a diamoi d-shaped figure, the tips of the thumbs under the chin. Then, keeping the elbows, forearms, and hands planted against the floor, lift the head actm V, push up with your arms, and create a gentle isometric pull with the arms as though you were wanting to pull yourself forward. At the same tii e
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