Can’t Do Cobra Pose? Here’s What Your Body Is Trying to Tell You

couple doing yoga cobra pose on a blute yoga mat at home
Tight hip flexors, lower back tension and a weak core are common reasons people have trouble with cobra pose.
Image Credit: Prostock-Studio/iStock/GettyImages

Whether you're a Vinyasa newbie or someone who pulls out their yoga mat every day, cobra pose is one of the most common asanas: You lie on your stomach with your legs together and your hands under your shoulders, then you lift your chest off the floor and roll your shoulders back and down your spine.

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In addition to strengthening your back, cobra pose stretches your shoulders, abdominals and quads, as well as opens up your chest while increasing mobility in your hips and spine. All of these benefits also make it the perfect pose for improving your posture.

Although getting into cobra pose may seem pretty straightforward, there's a lot that goes into doing it correctly. So if you've been experiencing the following issues when practicing cobra pose, your body is trying to let you know you need to make some adjustments.

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If You: Can't Lift Your Chest Off the Floor

You Might: Have Tight Pectoral Muscles

If you have poor posture, rounded shoulders and tight chest muscles might make it more difficult to do cobra pose. That's because cobra pose involves peeling your chest away from the floor, rolling your shoulders down and away from your ears and keeping your shoulders and elbows pressed back to help create more lift in your chest.

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Fix It

You can loosen up tight chest muscles by running through a couple of these chest stretches daily. It may take some time before your chest feels less tight, so make sure to listen to your body and only open your chest as far as your range of motion allows. Think 60 to 70 percent rather than 100 percent.

You can also get more of the chest-opening benefits of cobra pose by breathing in and slowly lifting up from your chest and back instead of fully extending your arms to create a slight arch in your back.

Try spreading your fingertips wide on the floor and pushing onto them in order to create an inverted cup with the palms of your hands. Doing this modification will strengthen your lower back and carpal tunnel while assisting with opening your chest.

If You: Experience Wrist Pain

You Might: Need to Strengthen Your Core

Wrist pain while practicing cobra pose means you're putting too much of your weight on your hands and shoulders. Using yoga props, such as blocks, can help take pressure off your wrists by balancing the weight.

However, wrist pain is actually often the result of having a weak core. When your core is weak, you tend to bring your weight forward onto your shoulders. This causes you to over-extend your wrist, which leads to pain.

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Fix It

Work on strengthening your core with these ab-strengthening yoga poses. By building up your core, you'll put less pressure on your shoulders and wrists.

There are also other cues you can try to get more out of your core with this pose. For example, try lifting from your core by drawing your shoulder blades down your back and making sure your shoulders are stacked directly over your wrists. Making this simple adjustment not only helps provide stability but also prevents compressing your lower back.

Another simple way to ensure you’re engaging your core in this pose is by pressing the tops of your feet into the mat, which allows your lower back to lengthen and your torso to easily extend.

Or, if you're still experiencing wrist pain, do sphinx pose instead. This variation of cobra involves putting weight on your forearms rather than your wrists.

Sphinx Pose

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Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. Lie on your stomach, with legs together and extended straight behind you and feet pointed.
  2. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and place your palms on the floor directly under your shoulders.
  3. Keep your hands and forearms flat on the ground, and rest your forehead on the ground.
  4. Press your forearms into the ground and slide your hands back to lift your head and open your chest.
  5. Align your elbows with your shoulders and spread your fingers wide.
  6. Inhale and exhale slowly as you pull your chest forward.

If You: Have Lower Back Tension

You Might: Have Tight Hips and Hamstrings

Lower back pain usually stems from having tight hip flexors and hamstrings, as well as not engaging your core or glute muscles while doing cobra pose. So if you sit down all day without stretching often, you may experience tightness in these areas.

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Fix It

Because your hip bones and glutes are connected to your pelvis, overly tight hip flexors and hamstrings can limit motion in that area. Do these yoga poses for tight hips, which improve hip mobility while also releasing tension in your lower back and inner groin.

Doing legs up the wall pose can also help with lower back pain by releasing tension on your spine. It also serves as a great follow-up to cobra pose, as it helps with neutralizing your spine after doing a somewhat intense backbend.

Another way to help relieve lower back tension is to relax your glutes.

If you suffer from chronic lower back pain, talk with your doctor and avoid doing cobra pose until you get the green light to start up again.

Legs Up the Wall Pose

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Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. Sit with your left side against a wall. Your lower back should rest against a bolster or pillow if you’re using one.
  2. Gently turn your body to the left and bring your legs up onto the wall. If you're using a bolster, shift your lower back onto the bolster before bringing your legs up the wall. Use your hands for balance as you shift your weight.
  3. Lower your back to the floor and lie down. Rest your shoulders and head on the floor.
  4. Shift your weight from side to side and scoot your sit bones close to the wall.
  5. Let your arms rest open at your sides, palms facing up. If you’re using a bolster, your lower back should now be fully supported by it.
  6. Let the heads of your thigh bones (the part of the bone that connects the hip socket) release and relax, dropping toward the back of your pelvis.
  7. Close your eyes and aim to stay in this pose anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, breathing in and out through your nose.
  8. To come out of this pose, slowly push yourself away from the wall and slide your legs down to the right side. Use your hands to press yourself back up into a seated position.

If You: Have Trouble Extending Your Back

You Might: Lack Spinal Mobility

If you're unable to transition from a low cobra to a high cobra (full extension), you may not have full spinal mobility. We all have a unique spinal structure that can make back extension more or less natural. However, there are ways to help you reach your fullest expression of cobra pose.

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Poses like cat-cow help warm up your spine before going into deeper backbends like cobra and increases the flexibility and mobility of your spine. Locust pose is another asana you can do to strengthen your posterior chain (backside of your body), which will assist with opening your chest.

Additionally, doing a spinal twist, such as thread the needle, helps release tension in your upper back and shoulders.

Patience is key. You won't see an improvement in your flexibility overnight, but with regular practice of these poses, you'll start to see some progress.

Cat-Cow

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Skill Level Beginner
Activity Yoga
  1. Begin on your hands and knees.
  2. Exhale as you round your back, pull the belly button toward your spine and tuck your chin toward your chest.
  3. Starting at the tailbone, release one segment of your spine at a time, relaxing through the lumbar spine, thoracic spine (mid-back) and finally, your cervical spine as you lift your chin upward into full flexion.
  4. Then reverse the motion. Be aware of what segments feel stuck. Breathe into these spaces and remember to move slowly.
  5. Continue to move between Cat and Cow pose, letting your body move with your breath.
  6. Start with 30 seconds at a time and work your way up to 2 to 3 minutes — whatever you feel you need.

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