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Backbends are among the most challenging yoga postures for most people because we spend so much of our daily lives in a forward-bending position. If you spend much of your workday hunched in front of a computer, you probably have chronic tightness in the upper back, chest, and shoulders. Backbends can help release that tightness, and most iyengar yoga classes include some type of back bend.
The cobra pose is one of the most basic backbends and most yoga beginners can manage it. When done correctly it opens the chest and promotes a strong spine.
Start by lying face down on your mat. Bend your elbows and place your palms next to your armpits. Inhale, and press your palms into the floor to help engage your back muscles as your raise your chest and head. Try to hold for five breaths.
If you have lower back pain, spread your legs wider than your hips. Otherwise, keep your legs together with the tops of your feet pressing into the floor.
To make the cobra more challenging, place your palms farther down your torso, close to your navel, before you lift up.