Bhujangasana, or "Cobra Pose," introduces the first of two backward bending yoga postures. Many men today tend to have hunched shoulders that round forward. Sitting for long hours at desks, in front of computers, or at the steering wheel of a car; working hard at the gym to develop strong pectoral, or chest, muscles; genetic predisposition; and the effect of aging on the musculoskeletal system are all Fig.YPS.8: Cobra Pose
factors that contribute to creating and aggravating this situation. Backward bending exercises are an ideal way to strengthen the muscles of the back in order to compensate for the weakness that often exists in the back and shoulder areas.
Yoga aims systematically to balance all the muscles in the body. Hence, postures that stretch and tone one group of muscles are generally followed by postures that stretch and tone the muscles that are opposite in action. The backward bending exercises that follow are the perfect counterpostures to the forward bending postures you've just performed. As always, listen to your body. If you feel that this or any of the following backward bending exercises are causing you discomfort, skip them, and rest in Child's or Corpse Pose.
Cobra Pose is especially good for strengthening the muscles of the upper back and opening the shoulders. Lie down flat on your belly on a mat or on a comfortable padded surface. Your legs and feet should be close together and in contact with the floor. Your toes are pointed and the tops of your feet are in contact with the ground. Place your hands, palms flat on the ground, underneath each of your respective shoulders. The arms should be bent with the elbows close to the sides of your body and the upper arms parallel to the floor. Your chin should be flat on the ground.
With an inhalation, slowly begin to inch your chin forward and up. Direct the forward upward movement from the sternum, chest, and heart center so that the head and neck stay in alignment with the rest of the spine. Gently continue to lift your neck, upper back, middle back, and lower back forward and up as each vertebra of your spine draws upward. Keep your hands on the floor. Use the strength of your back, especially your upper back, to propel your torso upward. Do not push on your hands to do the work, use them only to stabilize yourself in the posture. If you can, arch your neck and look up and backward. Go only so far as you are able. Feel as though you are a cobra, rising slowly, vertebra by vertebra as you strengthen the muscles of your entire back. Feel this movement extending all the way to your tailbone. Hold this position several breaths or longer if it is comfortable. When you are ready to release, gently return to the beginning position, chin on the floor, with a slow exhalation.
Repeat Cobra Pose up to three times if you are just beginning your yoga program. With continued practice, you can try increasing the length of time that you hold each repetition of the posture, as well as the number of repetitions that you can do.
If you find that performing Cobra Pose is too challenging for you, try modifying the pose. Experiment with placing your hands several inches in front of your chest. You can also try spreading your legs wider behind you—so that your feet are hip-width apart.
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