The upward-facing dog and cobra provide fitness and health benefits as part of yoga sequences or as individual poses. Upward-facing dog appears commonly in sun salutation sequences, but like cobra, can be incorporated into a variety of sequences. Upward-facing dog can serve as a preparatory pose for cobra, and vice versa, according to the "Yoga Journal."
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The formal Sanskrit names for upward-facing dog and cobra are urdhva mukha svanasana and bhujangasana, respectively. Although the upward-facing dog and cobra pose look similar to one another, hand placement alters the emphasis of the poses, as does the way the legs and lower body participate in the pose. When in the upward dog pose, your hands are positioned directly below your shoulders and your arms are straight. In the cobra pose, your hands are positioned in front of the body, with either bent or straight arms.
The upward-facing dog and cobra poses both work to stretch the chest, shoulders and abdomen, firm the glutes and strengthen the spine, according to the "Yoga Journal." The upward dog also targets the arms and wrists, since most of the energy comes from your arms. In the cobra, you're pulling energy from your core, pushing down through your pelvis for balance and strength.
Besides helping you to open up your chest and improving flexibility, the upward dog and cobra poses use body weight resistance to strengthen and stretch muscles. The upward dog engages muscles in your abs, obliques, transverse abdominus and erector spinae, according to the American Council on Exercise. Muscles worked during cobra pose include the trapezius, erector spinae and the transverse abdominus.
To get into the upward-facing dog pose, start in the prone position with the tops of your feet on the floor and your hands palm down at the sides of your waist. On an inhale, push away from the floor with your hands so that you maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your wrists. Cobra also starts in the prone position with feet top down, but with your hands under your shoulders and slightly in front of your body. Keep your elbows close to your body and lift your chest away from the floor. Your legs, feet and pubis press into the floor to power your lift as your arms extend away from the floor.
In upward dog pose, your wrists and arms are absorbing most of the force. Keep your shoulders away from your ears by actively pulling them down toward the tailbone. To get a deeper stretch, lift your legs off the floor. In cobra pose, the amount of bend in your arms depends on how far you can lift your chest without raising your pubis and legs, explains the "Yoga Journal." Advanced variations of the cobra pose include lifting your hands off the floor, which emphasizes the role your legs and core play in powering this pose.