Cobra Pose is one of the greatest gifts that Hatha Yoga has to offer us. It also just happens to be one of the few postures that has been studied, albeit only slightly, by modern science. Among its greatest benefits are strong erector muscles along the back of the body, a powerful remedy for our western culture's tendency to sit for long periods of time hunched over.
The front side of the chest and throat get good stretches, improving our posture and spines and doing more mystical things (until we can quantify them with our science) like opening energy channels and chakras. Our heart and throat chakras house our confidence, love and our expression.
Internally, the Cobra compresses the kidneys, adrenal glands and pancreas in the mid-back. It compresses the back-side of the lungs while stretching their front, same for the intestines.
Scientifically, the Cobra has been shown to decrease Cortisol levels. The compression of the adrenal glands helps them relax. Lower Cortisol means lower stress. Lower stress means better health everywhere in the body. And in a fast, high-pressure culture like ours, lower stress could save our lives.
Also, the Cobra has been shown to increase Testosterone levels in both men and women. The pressure of the pelvis and reproductive organs into the ground stimulates its production. This means greater self-confidence and self-esteem, a stronger sense of self. Combine the two, lower stress and higher self-esteem, and the Cobra becomes a kind of one-stop anti-depressant, anti-stress posture.
That said, I used to hate Cobra Pose. Hate it. The strength required from the back muscles was terribly uncomfortable, and the distress caused by the front-side stretch was intolerable. I hated it so much that when we got to it in class, I would pretend to be tired and just lay resting until it had safely passed. This went on for a period of a few months. The same pattern: work hard in the first half of class, act tired during the Cobra series, and then rejoin the class once Cobra was done.
One day I figured I had to face my demons if I wanted to make any progress. I wasn't getting any better at the Cobra by avoiding it. And they say that the postures that are the hardest are the ones we need the most. So I decided to start doing the Cobra. I started small, barely lifting my head and shoulders off the ground. I just tried to get my body alignment right and breath through it. The psychological stress was far more taxing than the physical effort, but I tried to remove as much fear and discomfort from the posture as possible. If I started feeling claustrophobic, I would simply back off to a place where my mind could observe calmly.
A few months went by like this: me barely in the posture, but slowly becoming comfortable with the physical sensations and watching my neuroses evaporate. I could feel my back muscles strengthening, gradually lifting me higher. I experimented with lifting my chin, which was a great way to remind myself how tight and close to panic I really was.
About a year after I began to face the Cobra head on, I realized that I had come to love the entire Cobra series. I had overcome a lot of systemic fear in my body, so my backbends were deeper and my confidence was generally higher. And because I had approached the pose with such delicacy and patience instead of just pushing into the stretch and fear, I developed a calm intimacy with my body in the posture.
Now the Cobra is one of my favorite postures. Even if I can't get a complete practice in, I try to find time to do the Cobra everyday. I can feel it calm me and empower me.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga