By Dr. Rita Khanna
Bhujanga means – a serpent. In its final position, the pose looks like a serpent, with its hood raised; and hence, the name. In all traditions, the serpent represents the tremendous power latent within the individual. In Tantra Yoga, it represents the “Kundalini Shakti,” which lies dormant at the base of the spine, in the form of a serpent, coiled three and a half times. In Hindu mythology, it is respected and honored as a sacred being, symbolizing the individual subtle force, intuition, and wisdom. The double looped mathematical symbol for infinity is derived from the ancient symbol of the snake, with its tail in its mouth, and is an expression of the continuity and eternity of life. By the practice of Bhujangasana, we can realize and express, not only all the specific qualities of the serpent, but also its divine essence. In English, Bhujangasana is also known as -Cobra Posture. It is a backward bending Asana.
Technique of Bhujangasana
• Spread a twice folded blanket on the plain ground.
• Lie down on your abdomen and chest (Prone position).
• Keep both legs joined together. The heels and the toes should touch each other. Stretch the legs down, like the tail of the serpent.
• Keep the palms of both hands parallel on the ground – on either side of the chest. The fingers should not extend beyond the shoulders.
• The elbows should be parallel to each other and pointing towards the sky.
• Keep the forehead on the ground; thighs also should touch the ground.
• Slowly, inhale deeply; take the weight on the palms and gradually lift the forehead, then neck, upper part of the chest, part of the abdomen above the navel, one-by-one, in order, as the cobra lifts the head and trunk. The weight will be distributed on the hands, thighs, and legs.
• Bend the head on the back side, as much as possible, vertebra by vertebra – starting from the cervical vertebrae, down to the lumbar, as if the serpent itself were uncoiling within you. The elbows will remain in bent position. Don’t straighten the elbows. Maintain that position, with retention of the breath inside, as much as possible. If breath can’t be retained, have normal breathing, but remain in that posture.
• To release the posture, reverse the process without any haste. First bring the abdomen back to the floor, then the upper part of the chest, then neck, and then the forehead. It means, while coming back, start the movement from the lumbar vertebrae and end with the cervical.
Inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration. Usually, inhalation takes place while raising the body, and exhalation while lowering it back to the floor. However, if this is too difficult, it may be preferable, for some time, to exhale while rising, and to inhale while lowering. Advanced practitioners can do Antar Kumbhaka (inner breath retention) while the posture is being held; otherwise, normal breathing can be practiced.
Benefits of Breath
• Circulatory conditions, such as hypertension, would benefit by Bhujangasana, performed during exhalation, as this does not put a strain on the heart. However, a sluggish circulation will respond better to Bhujangasana, after deep inhalation, or continued deep breathing.
• Respiratory conditions, such as emphysema, would benefit more from Bhujangasana, with exhalation, while pockets of alveolar collapse or poor ventilation would benefit more from Bhujangasana, with deep inspiration or deep breathing.
• Gastrointestinal conditions, such as a sluggish liver and other forms of congestion, constipation, and so on, will benefit from inhalation and deep breathing, as compared with conditions, such as irritable colon, hernia, or prolapsed, in which deep or normal exhalation are required.
• Mental tensions, in the form of depression, would appear to benefit more from inhalation, while anxiety and hyperactive states would benefit more from exhalation.
All the above conditions should only be treated under the guidance of an expert Yoga teacher and a qualified medical practitioner.
Practiced dynamically, and coordinated with the breath, the posture can be repeated between 3 and 5 times. The static pose can be maintained as long as it is comfortable, while continuing to breathe normally.
For maximum physical benefits, during the beginning stages, concentrate on the arch in the spine during inhalation, and during exhalation, concentrate on the relaxation in those parts which were under pressure. In later stages of practice, awareness can be brought to the flow of breath or to Vishuddhi Chakra.
Bhujangasana should not be practiced by people suffering from peptic ulcers, hernia, intestinal tuberculosis, or hyperthyroidism. It is not advisable for pregnant women, as it automatically becomes uncomfortable at a certain stage of pregnancy.
Personality, lifestyle, and environment all influence the structure and mobility of the spine; and every individual is affected differently by these factors. Therefore, one should not practice Bhujangasana in a standardized or mechanical way. Many people make the mistake of executing Bhujangasana directly, in its full form, and then suffer from lower back pain. There are so many variations in Bhujangasana, which can be adapted to suit every type of body, according to the observation and analysis of the Yoga teacher or the practitioner himself. By practicing the preparatory variations slowly, with patience and care, the tensions and stiffness can be removed. Dynamic practice is most useful at the beginning, while static practice can be developed progressively as the back becomes more supple and strong.
• Do Bhujangasana with keeping both palms under the shoulders, the forearms on the floor, parallel to each other, on either side of the body. While raising the body, the elbows, forearms, and hands will remain on the floor.
• Do Bhujangasana with keeping the palms above the ground.
• Do Bhujangasana by straightening the hands towards the head.
• Do Bhujangasana by keeping the hands by the sides of the chest and straightening the elbows.
• Other possibilities include: clasping the hands behind the back (as for Sarpasana), bringing the hands in Namaste (behind), or clasping them behind the head.
Makarasana is done to take rest after doing the Asanas, which are done by lying on the belly. For Makarasana, widen the legs; keep the distance of one and a half, to two feet, between the heels. The toes should be directed outwards, and the heels should face each other, touching the ground. Both hands should cross, and should be kept under the head. The head should be turned on the right or on the left side. Close the eyes; have normal breathing. This position of taking rest is called, Makarasana.
Effects of Bhujangasana
• Bhujangasana is a blessing for the sufferers of lumbosacral pain, hunch back pain, and cervical spondylosis, due to an increase in the blood supply to that region. (While doing Bhujangasana, the body weight is transmitted onto the hands, thighs, and feet; and this position helps in massaging the lumbar region, which helps to increase the blood supply to that region).
• Bhujangasana relieves muscular tensions and stiffness and stimulates the endocrine system.
• Bhujangasana has a favorable effect on the digestion process, due to its attaining the shape of the body resembling a Bhujanga. There are so many beliefs, in the society, about the snakes drinking milk, etc. These talks are traditional talks, since long snakes never drink milk. They are entirely non-vegetarian. The main food of the snake is the eggs of birds lying in their nests, frogs, and insects. The female snakes also engulf their own newborns; but the main good virtue of the snakes is to drink air – more than food.
• Bhujangasana is very effective in obesity problems. For persons who eat excessive food (Bulimia), the regular practice of Bhujangasana controls the intake of food, and thus, helps in controlling weight.
How it Happens
Our abdomen is related to the esophagus, cardiac sphincter, pyloric sphincter, abdominal wall muscles, mucosa, and duodenum. In addition, the digestive enzymes are supplied to the digestive tract from the pancreas. When we practice Bhujangasana, there is an effect on the vagus nerve, which becomes ineffective, and thus, appetite decreases. Appetite is also related to the secretion of hormones from the endocrine glands and digestive enzymes; if its secretion increases, then the appetite increases, and vice-versa. While performing Bhujangasana, there is no effect on the esophagus and the vagus nerve. They remain inactive, whereby, there is less secretion in the stomach, and appetite decreases.
Shitali and Shitkari Pranayama are very good for the digestive system. In Shitali and Shitkari Pranayama, we roll the tongue, like a tube vertically and horizontally, respectively. By rolling the tongue in this manner, the tongue gets massaged, and there is an effect on the vagus nerve, which improves digestion, and the digestive process occurs in a better way. We can combine Bhujangasana, along with Shitali or Shitkari Pranayama, to get double benefits. So, instead of inhaling through the nose, we can inhale through the tongue, or through the teeth, and exhale through the nose.
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Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in the field of Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by world famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh (India).
She believes firmly that Yoga is a scientific process, which helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. She is also actively involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has been successfully practicing these therapies and providing succour to several chronic and terminally ill patients through Yoga, Diet and Naturopathy. She is also imparting Yoga Teachers Training.
At present, Dr. Rita Khanna is running a Yoga Studio in Secunderabad (Hyderabad, India).