Inhale Joy & Open to Your Heart’s Power in Cobra Pose

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

Last week was a whirlwind for me between being ill (sinusitis sucks), attending staff meetings, and getting my handstands on at the Israel Yoga Fest in Gan HaShlosha (more on that later!), so I decided to take the week off from posting. That means that today we’re diving straight back into our in-depth exploration of the Surya Namaskara A sequence, picking up where we left off after Chaturanga Dandasana.

After engaging the core, triceps, shoulders, and quads so much in Chaturanga, what comes next in the sequence feels delicious! You know when you’ve been at Disneyland walking around all day in your crap-quality flip flops and then you finally get to sit down? Cobra Pose (or Bhujangasana in Sanskrit) is kinda like that. Stretching across the front of the body and hips after calling on them for so much strength is a delicious treat in the middle of the sequence. It’s an opportunity to release any still lingering tension and surrender to an open heart.

Breathe Into It

The great thing about the backbend of the Sun Salutation sequence is that there are a few different options to modify according to both your physical needs and the feeling you’re going for. You may have heard this backbend cued as Cobra Pose, or perhaps your teacher also cues the option to move into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit-speak). I’ll explain the precise difference in a just a second, but I like to think of Cobra as being a bit more laidback and yummy than a swift, powerful Up Dog. Neither is better than the other, and it all depends on your personal preference!

Let’s start in a tabletop position on the mat, with shoulders over wrists and knees slightly behind the line of the hips. If you want to come into Plank Pose and lower all the way through Chaturanga Dandasana and on to your belly, go for it! Otherwise, keep your elbows tucked close to your ribs and lower your chest and chin towards the mat, sliding your torso through. You’ll now be lying on your stomach with your palms still planted on either side of you.

  1. Untuck your toes so that the tops of your feet are resting on the mat.
  2. Roll your shoulders back and down (without trying too hard) so that your chest opens slightly.
  3. Then, pushing actively into the tops of your feet and your thighs, inhale and start to straighten your arms so that your head and chest lift up off the floor. It doesn’t matter how far you come up, just so long as you’re thinking about tucking the tailbone a bit (weird as it may sound) and engaging the core to support the lower back. Your butt will be active, but it shouldn’t be clenching.
  4. Keep your sternum lifting, your chest and shoulders remaining open. You may keep your chin parallel with the ground (crown of the head reaching up) or let your head tip back to open your throat.
  5. Still supporting yourself through the stable foundation of your palms, breathe here evenly for as many breaths as you feel you need. Then, on an exhale, come back down to the floor the way you came up.

YUM! It’s delectable, isn’t it? I work at a nursery, so after a long day of chasing around 35 two-year-olds and picking toys up off the floor, a good old Cobra is enough to give my back a few pops and get the prana flowing again.

If you’re feeling confident in Cobra and you’d like to feel a bit more power as you move throughout your Surya Namaskara sequence, feel free to give Upward Dog a shot:

  • You’ll follow the same exact steps as with Cobra Pose, but this time when you push up from the ground, you’ll bring your hips and thighs along for the ride. The tops of your feet and your palms will be the only parts of your body touching the ground. Keep opening through the shoulders and slide your chest through between your arms. Think about engaging your quads and rotating your thighs slightly inward (toward each other). The same guidelines about the neck apply here as well; just take care not to compress any part of the cervical spine.

Open hearts are tough. Sure, a pose like Cobra or Upward Facing Dog may be difficult for you physically, but I’m talking about the subtler side of things. We’ve all got our share of issues. We’ve all got our stories to tell, and some of those stories are really hard ones. My struggle with depression has often felt a lot like being pummeled with an endless barrage of rocks, and if rocks are being continuously chucked at you, the natural response is to duck and hide. To close off. In order to protect our hearts from being hurt again, we seal them up, reasoning that guarding what’s inside is preferable to allowing it to be damaged.

I felt like this worked for a while. Like a turtle pulling back into its shell for protection, going into hermit mode was a way for me to survive and reassess. It offered a brief respite from hurt and risk. However, the problem is that when we close our hearts off, no sunshine can get in and no sunshine can get out! We’re blocked off to the inspiration and support that others can offer us, and we’re also smothering our own brilliant light. You may not feel like it at this moment (or at any moment if we’re being real), but you are so damn unique, and nobody’s light shines in precisely the same way that yours does. No one else has been born with the exact set of talents, personality quirks, or potential that you have. You’ve got an absolutely astounding soul to offer the world, so let your light out and dazzle everyone around you–including yourself!

I know this stuff is easier said than done. Hell, I’ve been dating the most wonderful man I think I’ve ever met, and I still find myself in moments where I’m tempted to close off, to hide myself away for fear of being hurt again. It’s normal, and I don’t expect it will ever completely go away. That’s okay. What I (and all of us) need to remember is that by choosing to remain open and vulnerable, we can also actively create the beautiful things we’re seeking. The important part is that, once we’ve found our inner power (like we do in Chaturanga), we inhale joy and let our hearts open.

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