Sphinx Pose vs. Cobra Pose: Beginner Backbends You Need to Know

Distinguish between Sphinx Pose vs. Cobra Pose. Check out these beginner backbend tips you need to know regarding their effects, benefits, and precautions.

A woman in a light gray tank top and dark gray yoga pants, doing Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose on a wooden surface for her yoga routine.

When it comes to backbends in yoga, Sphinx Pose and Cobra Pose are the first two postures that come to my mind. That’s because these two are some of my favorite asanas, and I always add them to my yoga classes. Why? Because while some may consider these poses as beginner backbends, they come with benefits that even advanced yogis can enjoy.

In this article, you will learn the differences between Sphinx and Cobra, their similarities, benefits, and when you should or should not practice each pose.

Sphinx Pose

A woman in a white tank top and black yoga pants, doing Salamba Bhujangasana or Sphinx Pose on a grassy lawn for her outdoor yoga routine.

Sphinx Pose is a beginner backbend yoga asana that you can practice in both active and passive styles of yoga. The Sanskrit term for this pose is Salamba Bhujangasana. As the name suggests, the posture is similar to the posture of the mythological figure, the Great Sphinx of Giza.

Steps

  1. Lie down on your belly with your knees fully extended and your feet pointed.
  2. Bring the elbows under your shoulders and your forearms parallel to each other. 
  3. Inhale as you lift your chest off the ground. You have the option to bring your palms together in a prayer position or flat on the floor. Keep your shoulders away from your ears and keep gazing forward.
  4. Exhale to come out of the pose.

Modifications

To deepen the backbend of your Sphinx, you can do a Seal Pose variation by walking your hands closer to your shoulders and extending the elbows.

To make this into an active pose, you can tuck your toes and bring your hips up to come into Dolphin Pose.

To make this pose easier, roll up a towel and shape it into a U. Put this under your pubic bones and sides of the belly to support the lift. Another modification to make it easier is to bring the elbows slightly forward instead of under the shoulders.

Pose Energetics and Benefits

Practicing the Sphinx pose comes with the following benefits:

Stretches the Front Body

Lifting the chest off the mat opens the chest, abdomen, and hip flexors. 

Strengthens the Back Body

Performing Sphinx Pose requires contracting the backside of the body, which includes your upper back muscles and glutes. Doing this will strengthen the back body muscles.

Relieves Back Pain

Practicing Sphinx Pose can relieve your back pain. It improves the mobility of your whole spine and stretches the tight muscles around it.

Effects on Chakras

Yoga students simultaneously doing Salamba Bhujangasana or Sphinx Pose on their gray yoga mats at an indoor yoga studio.

Salamba Bhujangasana or the Sphinx Pose is a heart opener. It activates the Anahata or heart chakra, which is the seat of compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and love. As you work through the opening and activating this chakra, you will feel anger, sadness, trauma, and other types of emotions before you can find balance, calmness, and serenity. 

That’s why many yogis who practice heart-opening postures such as Sphinx Pose may feel emotional. 

Safety Precautions

Safety is very critical in yoga to avoid injury. Avoid doing Sphinx Pose if you have any of the following conditions:

Pregnant

If you are pregnant, especially in your second or third trimester, avoid practicing Sphinx Pose. This pose makes you press your stomach on the ground.

Pain

If you feel you have a lower back injury and acute pain, avoid practicing Sphinx Pose. If you try this pose and you feel compression in the low back along with sharp pain, come out of the pose right away.

Cobra Pose

Two women doing Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose on a wooden surface outdoors for their yoga routine.

Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana in Sanskrit is a level 1 or beginner backbend in yoga asanas. You will see this pose in many Ashtanga Vinyasa styles of yoga as it is part of the Sun Salutations. In other forms of yoga, such as Kids Yoga, they call it Snake Pose.

Steps

  1. Come to your prone position with your belly on the ground. Extend your legs fully and point your toes. Extend your arms overhead and keep your shoulders away from your ears.
  2. Bring your hands under your shoulders and inhale as you push the chest up. Spread your fingers wide and keep your elbows close to your sides. Contract your upper back muscles and your buttocks.
  3. Exhale to relax and bring the chest down. 

Modifications

To deepen the backbend of your Cobra, bring the hands beside your ribcage and extend the elbows fully as you bring the chest up. You can also extend the neck to deepen the backbend.

To make this pose easier, keep slightly bending the elbows and only bring your chest as high as you can. You also have the option to bring the hands a little forward. 

To turn this into a more active pose for the back muscles, lift the hands off the mat.

Pose Energetics and Benefits

Bhujangasana comes with the following benefits:

Opens the Front Body

Cobra pose stretches and opens the chest and the stomach.

Strengthens the Shoulders, Back Muscles, and Glutes

Lifting the chest in a cobra pose requires engaging the muscles in the backside of the body. This movement can strengthen those muscles. 

Improves the Mobility of Your Whole Spine

Cobra pose moves your whole spine and increases your spine mobility. 

Relieves Low Back Pain and Sciatica

A small study in 2013 shows that cobra pose can relieve sciatica pain. Cobra pose is also excellent for managing chronic lower back pain.

Effects on Chakras

A woman in taupe-colored yoga wear, doing Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose on a blue yoga mat inside the living room..

Bhujangasana is a backbend and a chest opener. Therefore, it stimulates and opens the heart or Anahata chakra. You can locate this chakra in the center of your chest. 

Anahata chakra is associated with balance, calmness, serenity, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and love. When the heart chakra is blocked, you will feel grief, anger, jealousy, and other emotions. On the other hand, when it is open and in harmony, you will feel calm. 

When you extend your neck in Cobra Pose, you will stimulate your Visuddha or throat chakra. Stimulating and opening this chakra helps in your ability to speak your truth.

Safety Precautions

To be safe, avoid doing or modify this pose under any of the following conditions:

You Are Pregnant

Lying down in a prone position can put pressure on the stomach. So, avoid doing Cobra Pose when you are pregnant, especially in your second and third trimesters.

If You Have Back Injury

If you have a lower back injury, take precautions in doing Cobra Pose by lowering your chest and moving your hands forward. If you have severe lower back pain, avoid practicing it. 

Wrist Injury

If you have carpal tunnel syndrome or wrist injury, make sure to spread your fingers wide and distribute your weight evenly on all the corners of your hands. If you feel too much pain in the wrist, avoid doing this pose.

Differences and Similarities of Sphinx and Cobra Pose

A woman in white yoga activewear, doing Salamba Bhujangasana or Sphinx Pose on a gray yoga mat indoors.

Similarities

The similarities in Cobra and Sphinx Pose are very apparent. Here are their similarities:

  • Sphinx and Cobra are beginner backbends.
  • Sphinx and Cobra are chest openers.
  • Shinx and Cobra open the Anahata or heart chakra.

Differences

Sphinx and Cobra have a few differences. These are the following:

  • In Sphinx Pose, you bring the forearms down on the ground instead of just your palms.
  • Cobra Pose activates the Visuddha chakra and Anahata chakra, while Sphinx only activates the Anahata chakra.

Which Pose is Better?

For me, there is no such thing as a better yoga pose. You cannot compare Sphinx vs. Cobra because these two poses are very similar to each other. You can also modify each pose to make it either more passive or more active. 

If you have wrist pain or injury, it’s probably when Sphinx Pose is better than Cobra. 

Final Thoughts

Yoga students simultaneously doing Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose on their gray yoga mats at an indoor yoga studio.

Sphinx Pose and Cobra Pose are yoga asanas that will open your heart, mobilize your spine, and strengthen your back muscles. Modify each pose according to your intention, energy level, experience, and style of yoga you want to practice. 

Most importantly, always work within a pain-free range. Do not force yourself to get into a backbend if your body is not ready for it.

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