What’s the difference between up dog and cobra?

Even if you think you know these poses, you may be getting some alignment cues mixed up. It is easy to use alignment from cobra when in up up dog (and visa versa), but they are two different poses, leading to a few key differences:

Similarities between up dog and cobra:

  • Come into both poses by laying, belly down, on the ground. It is common to get to this position after lowering down from plank or chaturanga, but you can come to this posture any way you like!
  • Hand placement is directly alongside the body with the fingers hitting in the mid-chest. Many yogis mistakenly leave their hands forward, in front of the chest, and this does not allow the chest to fully open. Keeping the elbows close to the body, rather than jutting them out, will work the triceps and open the chest in both up dog and cobra.
  • The arch should be as concentrated on the upper back as possible. Neither cobra nor up dog should feel strenuous on the lower back.
  • To keep the arch in the upper back, one trick is to roll the shoulders down the back, opening the front of the shoulders rather than the middle of the abdomen. This places the opening right in the heart; there is no better place to open up!
  • You have the option of either curling the toes under or placing the tops of the feet on the ground. The traditional variation is with the tops of the feet on the ground, but there are times when curling the toes under is acceptable or necessary.
That is where the similarities pretty much end. Here are some key differences:
  • Arms: In cobra, the arms will always maintain a slight bend at the elbow. In up dog, the arms can go straight (though not hyperextended).
  • Knees & Hips: In cobra, the knees & hips stay on the ground at all times. In up dog, the knees & hips lift off the ground, suspending the body in the air by the feet and the hands.
  • These two cues go hand-in-hand! It is important not to mix and match. For example, keeping the knees & hips on the ground (cobra) with straight arms (up dog) can lead to hyperextension of the back and elbows. If your hips & knees are grounded, keep the elbows slightly bent, and remain in cobra position. If your knees & hips are lifted, straighten the arms and take your pose into up dog.
Up dog pose – hips and knees lifted, arms straight, heart radiating forward
Cobra Pose – Hips and knees grounded, arms slightly bent, heart radiating forward

3 thoughts on “What’s the difference between up dog and cobra?

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