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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How to Teach Chaturanga Dandasana


Now is the time to brush up on your knowledge of chaturanga dandasana, so you can teach the pose safely. It is important to keep your student’s shoulders safe in their vinyasa yoga practice. It takes time and patience to master chaturanga.

Chaturanga has gotten a bad rep in the yoga community and has been dubbed the “shoulder shredder” and it’s not without due cause. This pose, when done incorrectly, can destroy the rotator cuff, injure the deltoids, and cause chronic pain in the upper back/neck. So why do we practice it?

Chaturanga Dandasana is an integral part of our yoga practice and when done properly builds strength and stability in the shoulder girdle and builds strength in our core. It’s important to fully master chaturanga before moving on to more advanced arm balances and inversions.

I’ve broken this post down into a few sections. I encourage you to read through all of the sections as there are many components to chaturanga dandasana.

Alignment Cues and Teaching Tips for Chaturanga Dandasana

As always, remember to build the posture from the ground up. A stable and strong posture needs a strong and sturdy foundation.

  • Hands are shoulder width distance.
  • Fingers are spread wide.
  • Press down through knuckles of index finger and thumb (hasta bandha)
  • Start from Plank Pose with the feet hips width distance.
  • Press forward onto your toes, so your heels stack over your toes.
  • Lower halfway down to create a 90 degree angle at the elbows.
  • Elbows stay in close to the body. Don’t let them wing out to the side.
  • Stretch the crown of your head forward and create a long line from the heels out through the crown of the head. Draw your tailbone down toward your heels.
  • Draw the navel in toward the spine to support the lower back.

7 Tips to Keep Your Student’s Shoulders Safe When Teaching Chaturanga Dandasana:

  1. Keep your hands shoulder width distance, fingers spread wide and press down into the base knuckles, particularly of the thumb and index finger.
  2. As you begin to lower down make sure your elbow points are pointing straight back behind you. They are not “winging” out to the side or “squeezing” into the sides of your rib cage. Remember: CHATURANGA IS NOT A PUSH UP! When the elbows wing out to the side the heads of the arm bones dip down, the shoulders round and the sternum sinks.
  3. Only lower half way down, to create a 90° angle at the elbow ie. your forearm is perpendicular to the floor and your upper arm is parallel to the floor.
  4. Think of drawing the shoulders away from your ears in Plank Pose and as you lower. Try not to collapse between the shoulder blades. Try to keep the shoulder blades on your back.
  5. Keep your core strong, press back through your heels, lift the fronts of your thighs and draw the navel in. Stretch the crown of your head forward, gaze is only slightly forward and down (don’t let the head hang).
  6. As you move from Plank Pose to Chaturanga press forward on your toes as you lower down, this will set you up for Upward Facing Dog.
  7. As you work on building strength it’s important to honor your body where it is TODAY, not where you want it to be. It’s okay to lower your knees down to the mat, so you can slowly and safely move through your chaturanga. You can also practice chaturanga at the wall.

Benefits of Chaturanga Dandasana

  • Strengthens wrists, arms (triceps!), and shoulders
  • Strengthens and tones the entire body (hello legs!)
  • Prepares the body for arm balances and inversions

Contraindications for Chaturanga Dandasana

  • Shoulder or wrist injury
  • Pregnancy (although this is debatable)

I hope you find these tips helpful. Please feel free to message me if you need more clarification. I’m always happy to help.

Love and Light,


Autumn Adams
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2014 Wedding Season Is Here

Central Oregon Brides if you book your Wedding Wellness Package by June 20th 2014 AND you like our facebook.com page you will receive a full 20% off of your package.

Our individually tailored Wedding Wellness Packages are designed to harmonize body, mind, and spirit through yoga, pranayama and meditation; they are a great way to connect with your bridal party and a great way to bring peace and balance to your wedding day.

Ambuja Yoga will travel to your venue or hotel for your yoga session or rent out space at a local yoga studio. You won’t have to worry about music or props.

Hope to see you soon.


Love & Light,