Down dog vs. Cobra by Jessica Blanchard

If a cobra and a dog got into a fight who would win?  According to Thai legend (where there are many cobras), dogs can kill snakes.  It is good to have a dog around for this reason.  Growing up in south Louisiana, I remember our dog CoCo picking up a non-poisonous garden snake and run proudly around the yard shaking the snake as my mom screamed and laughed.

Upward-facing dog and cobra yoga postures look similar in external forms. Legs are extended on the mat, head and torso are upright.  Both are backbend forms.

Upward facing dog - Adho muka svasana

Upward facing dog - Adho muka svasana

Upward facing dog is generally said to be the “harder” or advanced pose while cobra is easier for beginners to yoga.  For us humans to do upward facing dog, we need to have lots of muscles working – thighs, shins, arms and back.  I often see people forcing themselves into it, while for dogs, this is a fun pose.  They stretch happily, lifting the chest putting more of the weight into the front feet and letting their back stretch by dropping the pelvis.  Here is a video with my dog, cookie doing a quick version of her doggie poses.  Can you spot the Up Dog Pose?

Cobra - Bhujangasana

Cobra - Bhujangasana

Cobra is snake-like, you are slivering forward using as little muscular energy as possible.   Cobra is good for those who have trouble relaxing their muscles.  It helps to open up the back, especially strengthening the muscles along the spine.


Down dog

Collapsed Down Dog

Collapsed Down Dog

1. Only the hands and feet should touch the mat
2. The pelvis is not touching the mat
3.  Arms push into the mat, forearms turn inward while the upper arms turn outward, opening the chest.



Cobra, shoulders up

Cobra - shoulders hunched, ouch!

1. Pelvis and legs are on the mat
2.  Hands press lightly into the mat, pulling back towards the feet.
3.  Tops of feet and legs press into the mat

Both postures
1.  Chest is pulling forward
2.  Leg muscles – quadriceps are active
3.  Moola bandha e.g. pelvic floor contracts, helping to stabilize the tailbone and keep the pelvis tilted to protect the back.

There are benefits to both postures, when done correctly, cobra is especially beneficial to those who sit a lot here is why:

– It strengthens the muscles that run along the spine, correcting the slouching motion that happens when sitting at a desk.
– It draws the shoulder blades down the back into their correct position. Often they are hunched up, with the result that the tops of the shoulders are rock solid.
– It is hard to muscle your way into cobra, softness is key.  Slide forward like a snake.
– The back is protected because the pelvis is “glued” to the mat, the lumbar spine will not get over extended.

Next time you are in a yoga class, think about dogs and how happily and freely they do up dog, smile to yourself for no particular reason.  Then when you get to cobra, relax your muscles, let loose and slide into the pose!


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