Asana Analysis: Mini-Cobra
This modification of Bhujangasana is extremely useful for anyone who practices yoga. It helps to increase the mobility and awareness of our upper-back (thoracic spine) and shoulder blades (scapulae). Consider using mini-cobra instead of up-dog during sun salutations for the first few rounds until the body is warmed up.
Even in the absence of injury, this is a good posture to practice before doing more vigorous backbends. We are all more stiff in our thoracic spines given our postural habits and activities of daily living as well as the inherent anatomy of the thoracic spine. By learning to work with the scapulo-thoracic region, we can avoid overcompensations in the lower back and neck during postures such as cobra, up-dog and upward facing wheel.
Points of Body Awareness:
*Begin with the forehead resting on the ground, the fingertips are under the shoulders and elbows point back towards your heels.
*Before lifting the head and chest, gently press the pubic bone down into the mat and lift the shoulder blades towards the ceiling, squeezing them together.
*Lift the the head and chest away from the ground without pushing with the arms.
*Can you lift the hands one inch off the ground? If you are using your spinal muscles to keep the head and chest lifted then it should be easy to lift the hands.
*With the hands back on the ground, can you imagine dragging yourself forward on your belly? This should be an isometric action, meaning there is no visible movement that occurs but you should feel more muscular action around your shoulder blades and you might feel the chest opening a bit more.
*Keep the gaze on the ground about three feet in front of you. This will help to prevent hyperextension of the neck.
*Hold for at least 6 breath cycles. Be aware of the shoulder girdle and notice if the shoulders creep forward.
Muscles Strengthened: Middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids, cervical and thoracic extensors
If there is any pain in the neck or back try keeping the forehead down and just work on lifting the shoulder blades back and together. You can also try coming up onto the fingertips as shown in the video below to focus on isometric strengthening of the shoulder girdle.
Try floating the hands off the ground while keeping the lift and extension of the upper back and shoulders. Progress endurance of these postural muscles by holding for longer periods of time.
This is a great yoga pose for working on postural awareness, level 1 scapular stabilization and spinal extension ROM. The isometric work described above under "Points of Body Awareness" is meant to cue the lower trapezius muscles. Mini-cobra is extremely useful for patients with osteoporosis, rotator cuff injuries, neck injuries, postural syndromes, etc.