What’s the Difference Between Cobra Pose & Upward Facing Dog

As a new yoga student it can be super confusing when the yoga instructor isn’t exactly clear on the difference between cobra pose and upward facing dog in a vinyasa flow class…. so lets take a moment to clear things up and help you figure out which one is best for your body.

Step 1: Let’s take a moment to look at each pose separately

Cobra Pose Sanskrit: Bhujangasana


Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose strengthens the muscles of the back, legs, and arms. It is often taught toward the beginning of a vinyasa flow class or as a preliminary backbend to deeper backbends.

Here are 7 Tips to Improve Alignment in Bhujangasana

  1. Lie on the floor on your belly with hands underneath your shoulders and fingertips just back behind your collar bones.
  2. Either squeeze your legs together or take them so they’re hips width distance. Press your toe nails into the mat and engage your legs. Press your pubis (commonly called your pubic bone) into the mat and think of lengthening your tailbone down toward the earth (this will help take some of the compression out of the lower back).
  3. Draw your elbows in and shoulder blades down your back.
  4. With an inhale breath peel your chest up off the mat using the strength of your back. Gaze is forward and down with the jaw line drawing slightly back to maintain length in the cervical spine.
  5. Think of engaging your lower abdominals to provide stability to your lower back.
  6. Elbows stay bent in Cobra Pose. And shoulders continue to draw down your back.
  7. You may use the strength of your arms to lift a little higher, but know to back off when you feel any compression in the lower back.

Exhale to come out of the posture.

Upward Facing Dog Sanskrit: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana


Upward Facing dog is used most commonly in a vinyasa class as a linking posture that links Chaturanga Dandasana to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). It is important to maintain stability through your center and keep your legs engaged.

Here are 7 Tips to Improve Alignment in Upward Facing Dog

  1. Since upward facing dog is normally taught from Chaturanga that is how we will address it here. To make sure your shoulders are in the right place for your upward facing dog it’s important to press forward on your toes when you take your chaturanga, so your forearms are perpendicular to the floor and your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
  2. With an inhale begin to pull your chest forward through the arms and roll over the tops of the feet.
  3. Your legs are engaged. Tops of your feet pressing into the mat with legs and pelvis off of the floor.
  4. Your arms are straight and perpendicular to the floor with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists.
  5. Engage your lower abdomen to maintain stability in the lower back.
  6. Gaze (drishti) can be forward or up, but make sure you’re not dropping your head back and collapsing into the cervical spine.
  7. When you’re in the posture make sure your shoulders aren’t lifting up to the ears. Shoulders are drawing down and back is the shoulder blades draw in and down.

Exhale to exit the posture.

Step 2: Let’s Compare Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog side by side

Cobra Pose

Upward Facing Dog

Elbows bent and drawing in Elbows straight
Hips and legs are on the ground Hips and legs are off the ground
Tops of feet pressing into mat Top of feet pressing into mat
Legs together or hips width If coming from down dog feet are hips width
Lower abdominal muscles engaged Lower abdominal muscles engaged
Shoulders drawing down the back (away from the ears) Shoulders drawing down the back (away from the ears)
Gaze is forward and down Gaze is forward or slightly up
Tailbone drawing down toward the floor Tailbone drawing down toward the floor
Inhale to enter/exhale to exit Inhale to enter/exhale to exit

Step 3: Now the big question: Should I be practicing Cobra Pose or Upward Facing Dog?

Cobra Pose is truly a foundational posture. It’s great for improving strength of the lower back and reducing lower back pain. It helps lay the groundwork for deeper backbends by warming up the muscles of the back. This posture also strengthens the glutes, legs and arms. Cobra pose is a safe way to backbend in a vinyasa class for almost everyone. If you have any limitations in your lower back I highly recommend practicing cobra pose. I do not recommend straightening the arms. And I encourage you to be mindful as you backbend, so you’re not compressing the lower back… especially as your back becomes more flexible.

Upward Facing Dog is common mostly in vinyasa style/power yoga classes. I think that it is important to be able to move from high plank to chaturanga (low plank) to upward facing dog to downward facing dog without bringing the hips, knees, thighs down to the mat. If you have the strength to do that you have the strength in your core to support the lower back in this posture.

I recommend always warming up your lower back with a few rounds of low cobra before moving into upward facing dog… so that may mean that you take the first three vinyasas of your yoga class with cobra pose instead of upward dog.

If you’re new to yoga start practicing cobra pose and once you feel strong and confident in cobra begin to practice upward facing dog. Remember the tips I’ve listed here and enjoy your practice.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Love and Light,


Autumn Adams
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Reduce Your Chronic Lower Back Pain with Yoga; 4 Part Series- Part 1: Fundamental Postures

Hello Yogis. I’ve created a four part series to help you and your students reduce lower back pain and I’m hoping you will find here the tools to end your lower back pain.

I myself have experienced chronic lower back pain. Here is my lower back pain story:

Many years ago and well before I was teaching yoga I made a living waiting tables and I wore terrible shoes, stood with poor posture for long shifts, and in general did not take care of my body. These years of neglect, while slinging drinks at the bar/resto, left me with incredibly tight hamstrings, lower back muscles, and hip flexors. I would come home late from work each night and my back would be a mess and I would be unbearably grumpy.

Eventually I found my way back to my yoga practice (so thankful) and my lower back pain slowly began to diminish. I’ve also found that as long as I continue to practice and continue to stretch my lower back my back pain doesn’t come back…. it’s honestly been years since I last experienced any lower back pain.

Unfortunately, lower back pain is one of the most common complaints I hear amongst new yoga students and even some long time yoga students. Common contributors to lower back pain are manual labor, sedentary lifestyle, weight gain, and poor lifting habits.

In recent years there have been a handful of research studies on the benefits of yoga and non-specific chronic lower back pain and across the board yoga and stretching are shown to reduce low back pain… something I’ve known for years based on my own personal experience and now there is scientific proof!

Part 1 includes my favorite poses to work out an achy lower back. The following 5 Yoga Poses for Low Back Pain can be sequenced into a short yoga routine for morning or night. Remember, as you begin practicing these yoga postures to go slowly and move mindfully: start with fewer repetitions, shorter holds, and take plenty of rest.

5 Yoga Poses for Low Back Pain

1. Cakravakasana







Benefits: Cakravakasana restores balance to the spine and relieves back tension

Instructions: Start on hands and knees in table top pose with hands slightly forward of shoulders and knees under hips. Inhale and draw your heart forward as shoulder blades draw in toward one another and core is engaged without arching the lower back. Cervical spine stays long with chin slightly tucked. Exhale, begin to round the lower back, drawing your navel toward your spine while maintaining length in the upper back. Begin to send your hips back toward your heels coming into a child’s pose variation and gently stretching into your lower back. Repeat with your next inhale. Repeat 5-10 times.

2. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)


Bridge Pose set up. Exhale as you return to this pose.


Inhale as you rotate your pelvis to lift hips, belly and heart.

Benefits: Bridge Pose stretches and strengthens the back and can alleviate low back pain, opens chest and hip flexors, strengthens core muscles and improves the flexibility of the spine and hips.

Instructions: Lie on your back, bend your knees and walk your feet in as close to your hips as is comfortable for your body, knees are hips width distance and feet are parallel to one another. Stretch your arms down by your hips, palms face down. On an inhale breath begin to curl your tailbone up toward the sky, lifting your pelvis up and gently peel your spine away from the floor to lift the belly and chest. Keep your gaze straight up at the ceiling to protect your neck. As you exhale, gently begin to roll down beginning at the upper back and ending when the tailbone reaches the ground. Repeat 5-10 times. As you begin to build strength begin to increase the length of time you spend in the posture, eventually holding for up to 15 seconds each round.

3. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)


Lie on your belly with chin or forehead on the mat and fingers under shoulders. Return on exhale to this posture.


Inhale to lift the heart. Keep cervical spine long by slightly tucking the chin and keep legs together and engaged.

Benefits: Cobra Pose strengthens the back extensors and stabilizes the lower back and sacrum.

Instructions: Lie on your belly, place hands under your shoulders with palms down (and slightly behind shoulders— finger tips should be behind collar bones) and elbows draw in toward your rib cage. Legs extend straight back behind you with feet and legs touching and tops of the toes pressing into the floor. Place your left ear on the ground. On inhale draw your head to center, use the strength of your back to lift your chest, shoulders and head off of the ground arching the back while legs press firmly into the ground. Exhale to lower your chest and head down to the mat, this time bring your right ear down to the mat. Repeat 5-7 times alternating the direction your head rests between rounds. When you begin to feel stronger hold the posture longer, eventually holding the posture for 30 seconds each time with slow steady breaths.

4. Figure 4 Stretch


Figure 4 gently stretches into the external rotators of the hip, glutes and lower back.

Benefits: Figure 4 Stretch gently opens the hips, stretches the piriformis, glutes and lower back, and relieves tension in the muscles surrounding the sacrum.

Instructions: Lie on your back. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet to the floor. Feet and knees hips width distance from one another. To begin cross your right ankle (foot flexed) over your left thigh and allow your right knee to release out to the side (your legs creating a figure 4 shape), stay here, OR interlace your hands behind your left thigh and gently begin to draw your legs closer to your body. Try to keep your spine long, tail bone stretches down toward the floor, and shoulders relaxed. If your neck, shoulders and upper back are tight you may want a folded blanket underneath your head and neck. Hold for 30 sec to 1 minute and repeat on the other side. Gradually increase the length of time spent in the pose to two to three minutes on each side.

5. Deer Pose Twist (Supported Prone Twist)


This prone supported twist is a nice way to slowly release muscles of the back.

Benefits: The Deer Pose Twist gently stretches lower back and hips. This gentle twist also stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System which regulates our Relaxation Response.

Instructions: To set up for the Deer Pose Twist you will want a bolster (a couple of firm pillows or a firmly folded blanket will also work perfectly) and you will place your bolster on the floor in front of you lengthwise. Starting on the right side, sit next to the short edge of the bolster with your right hip and right thigh snugged up to the short edge of the bolster and your leg bent a bit more than 90 degrees at the knee. Your top leg (left) will also have about a 90 degree angle at the knee. Snug your left knee into the sole of your right foot and allow your inner shin/calf to rest on the floor (legs look like a swastika). Turn your upper body to face your bolster and take one hand to either side of the bolster, framing the bolster and squaring your shoulders. Inhale lengthen your spine long and as you exhale gently lower your torso down onto the bolster. Left or right ear can come down to the bolster, whichever feels best on your neck. Hold the posture up to three minutes. To exit the pose use an inhale breath to lift your torso up gently and slowly and then switch sides and hold for an equal length of time.

Bonus Pose:

6. Child’s Pose (Balasana)


Child’s Pose gently opens and balances the lower back and hips.

Benefits: Child’s Pose gently opens the lower back, hips and shoulders. Child’s Pose also helps to calm and quiet the mind.

Instructions: Begin by coming into a table top position (hands underneath shoulders and knees underneath hips) and then draw your toes to touch as you move your knees slightly wider than hips width distance. On an exhale breath send your hips back toward your heels, while stretching your arms forward with palms down on the floor. Stay here for 1-3 minutes. If you’d like a deeper stretch for your lower back draw your knees to touch (big toes touch too) before sending your hips back toward your heels.

Variation: In the wide kneed version of child’s pose you can walk your hands over to the left to stretch into your right side body and then walk your hands over toward the right stretching into your left side body.

I hope you find these exercises helpful in relieving your lower back pain. Do you have a favorite exercise for your lower back that I didn’t mention here? I’d love to hear about it; I’d also love to hear if these poses are helping your lower back. Please feel free to write below in the comments or send me a private message.

Love and Light,

Autumn Adams, RYT

Please note that Autumn Adams is a 500+ hr yoga instructor and has studied extensively with her teachers, but she is not a doctor. She asks that you please consult your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any new exercise program.

Check back soon for Part 2: 5 Poses to Strengthen Your Core and Lower Back and Reduce Low Back Pain

Autumn Adams
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