The practice of yoga is an all-encompassing umbrella of so many things. It’s a strong physical practice if that’s what you need. It’s a soul-stirring savasana. It’s a refuge away from the chaos that is our every-day life, if only for an hour every so often. But most importantly, yoga is all about connection.
Connection. I often throw that word around in the space of a community class because just like the yoga practice, it is also all-encompassing. Connection has the potential to exist in absolutely everything we do, if we can only just make that our intention. Connection of breath with body, of awareness with intention, of Chair Pose with disdain or eye-rolling. Connection is the unifying of two or three or a million things.
However, our physical bodies are actually creating an environment that inhibits us from this feeling of connection. Think about this: when you get home from a long day and finally get the chance to kick your shoes off and unwind, unplug, de-stress, how has your body been positioned throughout the day?
When we drive our cars, we tend to hunch over. When we scroll robotically through our phones– hunched over. When we send e-mails at work? Hunched over. When we get home and just want to lounge on the couch and turn our brains off to Netflix and chill? Most likely, hunched over.
When we scan back through the tasks of our day or our week, most of us don’t even give it a second thought about how our physical body looks. When we do all of these things without the intention of an erect spine or open heart, we are quite literally cutting ourselves off from connection.
One thing we know is that the heartspace is the center for all connection: connection to our innermost selves and connection to everyone we encounter throughout our day. When we don’t notice how we sit or stand or drive or Netflix and chill, when we round through the upper back and close the heart off, we are doing far more damage than good. It creates a lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, a feeling of being ungrounded, and a way of operating that exists mainly in the head instead of the body.
Because of all of these positions we encounter throughout our day, it is so important to take the body in the opposite direction on the four corners of our mat. Heart openers, more commonly known as backbends are the essence of this counterpose. We take the head and neck in the opposite direction, we activate the heartspace, and we allow the spine some relief as well as strengthening and lengthening.
Cobra pose, Bhujangasana in Sanskrit, is a fundamental heart-opener for all bodies at all levels. Whether it’s your first time ever rolling out your mat or your thousandth time, Cobra pose is accessible and essential for everyone seeking some relief from the goings on of their day or just seeking some connection to the Self and to those around us.
Let’s break down a few key steps and alignment cues if you’re wanting to try this pose at home or just to better expand your physical understanding of the pose:
- Come onto the floor, belly down, and stretch legs out behind so the tops of the feet, especially pinky-edges of the feet are pressing down towards the Earth beneath.
- Press palms on the floor directly underneath the shoulders with fingers spread wide and knuckles firmly pressing down.
- Hug the elbows into the sides of the body, lightly grazing the ribcages
- Press tops of feet, thighs, and pelvic floor into the Earth.
- On your next big inhale, press the palms into the floor to lift the chest off the floor. Only lift to a height where you can still maintain elbows hugging in and a connection with the thighs and pelvic floor to the Earth
- Press the tailbone down towards the Earth and engage glutes slightly.
- As you lift, round heads of shoulders down and away from the chest and bring the shoulder blades closer together at the back.
- Lift crown of head up towards ceiling without jutting chin too far up or forward.
- You may increase the depth of the backbend by finding more straight arms or focus on low back strength by adding the challenge of hovering the palms away from the floor.
- You can hold this pose anywhere from 5-15/20 breaths and when you are ready to lower down, do so on an exhale.
This yoga pose not only allows great activation through the lumbar spine (low back) but also allows for great relief from stress and fatigue. Any backbend or heart opener is a great stimulator for the nervous system so be mindful of taking too many of these yoga poses right before bedtime.
So, next time you feel a little energetically depleted or perhaps isolated from those around you, most importantly, isolated from yourself, give yourself permission to air out that heartspace. It releases old, stagnant, self-serving energy and makes room for such beautiful, open, cultivating energy. And maybe, just maybe, finding relief in a yoga pose like this will allow you to notice throughout your day when you start to hunch over and close your heart off.