Written by Kara Goodsell
In the fifth posture that comprises the Purna Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), we look at Bhujangasana, a basic prone backbending pose.
In this asana, the whole body from the tips of the toes to the crown of the head rise like the head of a cobra, symbolising the awakening of the serpent kundalini, the potential energy which lies coiled and dormant at the base of the spine, toward the third eye (ajna chakra) and undifferentiated consciousness.
Back bending asanas energise the sympathetic nervous system of the body, stimulating the kidney and adrenal areas. There is a squeezing action in this area as the spine arcs and the pose is held, which soaks this area with blood when the pose is released, maximising the function of the organs.
Bhujanga= cobra or serpent
Bhuja = arm or shoulder
Anga = limb
Asana = comfortable seat
Contraindications & Cautions
Spondylolisthesis: avoid the pose
Pregnancy: avoid the pose
Spinal injuries and/or weak back muscles: care needs to be taken
Strengthens and increases the flexibility of the spine and vertebral column
Opens the chest, shoulders, heart and ribcage
Tones and strengthens the entire spinal extensor group of back muscles
Stimulates the endocrine system and digestive organs
Tones the kidneys
Effective in toning the ovaries and uterus and assists in remedying uturo-ovarine disorders such as dysmenorrhoea
On an emotional level can assist in negating lethargy and depression and to develop strength and will power
Good for kyphosis – modern day repetitive activities can continuously round the back and shoulders and cause the chin to move forward, which over time can affect the natural curves of the spine. The chest can collapse, the breathing process affected, and cervical spine pulled out of alignment. Consistent practice of Bhujangasana can help diminish this tendency
The challenge of this pose is to allow the deeper intrinsic back muscles to activate the extension of the spine.
An area of concern in the pose is the lumbar spine (lower back). To avoid over mobilising the lumbar spine, stabilise the lumbar area and avoid any hinge like movements.
Instead, emphasise lengthening through the thoracic spine (upper back) and expanding the chest. Let the back muscles lift you, rather than the neck muscles or the hands.
• Start by lying prone (on the front side of the body). Place the palms on the floor, with the fingers spread and the middle finger facing forward. Draw the elbows in alongside the ribcage and keep the forearms parallel to each other.
• Or, in the case of the Purna Sun Salute, from Balasana with the arms extended forward and palms resting on the floor, lift the buttocks from the heels, swoop the chest between the hands, and lightly brush the chest along the floor, lifting into the posture, on an inhalation.
• On an exhalation make the body long, pressing the pubic bone into the mat and extending back from the waist, buttocks, legs and out through the toes. Lengthen the tail bone toward the heels and subtly lift the public bone toward the navel. Firm but avoid hardening the buttocks
• On an inhalation, begin to lift the shoulders and chest off the floor, going only to the height at which you can maintain a connection through the pubis to the legs, lengthening the entire front side of the torso from the pubic bone to the middle breastbone. For beginners keep the elbows bent and the lower ribs touching the floor.
• Firm the shoulder blades against the back, broadening the shoulders away from the ears and keep the elbows in toward the sides of the body, with the forearms parallel to each other.
• Keep the chin parallel and toward the throat, so that the back of the neck remains long, with the gaze directly at eye level or down toward the floor.
Alignment & Anatomical Focus:
Feet & Legs:
With the toes pointing away from the body, the feet are in plantar flexion. The legs are not passive in the Cobra pose and numerous actions in the legs are required to keep the joints in alignment.
The hamstrings extend the hips and legs away from the torso and the legs toward internal rotation, while the quadricep muscles work to extend the knees.
Pelvis, Buttocks, Torso & Spine:
Opening the chest and psoas muscles are important prepatory actions for the safe practice of the pose.
A weakness in the medial hamstrings can cause the buttocks to become overly hard in the pose. This in turn can cause the legs to externally rotate and tension in the lumbar area. Firm, but try to avoid hardening the buttocks.
As the lumbar spine is stabilised in the pose, the focus is on lengthening through the thoracic spine. This area of the spine is generally more limited in its ability to extend into a backward movement, due to the large downward facing spinous processes and the 12 pairs of ribs attached to the thoracic vertebrae.
Focus on lifting through the top of the sternum and expanding the side ribs forward, with the heart leading the way. Become aware of where the central abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus) attach to the pubis and lengthen the front body from the pelvic floor to the roof of the mouth.
Shoulders & Arms:
Any tightness in the shoulders or weakness in the forearms will make the elbows flare out to the side and affect the elbow and shoulder joints. Ideally the forearms are parallel to each other.
The action of pulling back on the floor with the hands facilitates moving the chest forward.
Avoid using any pressure on the palms to push the torso away from the floor.
The standard instruction is to inhale when the spine moves into extension and enters a back bend.
On each inhale, allow the energy to move upward through to the third eye and on each exhale allow the energy to move down to the base of the spine.
To bring the body and mind back to neutral, it is a good idea to follow a back bend with a counterpose.
Balasana (Child pose) is a safe and gentle pose to counter the extension of the spine OR in the case of the Purna Sun Salute, move into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Face Dog)
1.Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff, Published by Human Kinetics 2007