Cobra is THE fundamental pose for lower-back strengthening. From a prone position, firmly press the tops of your feet into the ground, firm (but do not completely engage) your glutes, and peel your chest off the ground. Squeeze your shoulders blades and elbows towards one another, and open your shoulders up to the front wall. Don’t use your triceps or pectorals to lift your chest off the ground. The strength of your lower-body and lower-back keep your chest in the air.
Many people who do yoga, especially men, use cobra as an excuse to do something that they are more familiar with: the push-up. This is incorrect, as cobra does not focus on your triceps or pectorals (pushing muscles). However, it is helpful to use a small amount of tricep strength to pull your chest forward and open your shoulders up a /slight/ amount when you reach your fullest extension of cobra.Modification: Don’t overdo the backbend in this pose. To find the safest height of spinal extension for you, lift your hands off the mat for a few seconds and notice how high your chest lifts without using your arms. And while you’re up there, check in – are you breathing?
Any variations of backbends, including Cobra, can be an intense stretch. I find the best pose to transition into right after Cobra is Child’s pose. It gently opens up the low back and provides a safe place to let the muscles of your back recover and your body balance out.