Holding handstand might feel light-years away in your yoga practice, but perfecting one beginner pose can help you on your journey to this big, beautiful arm balance. Handstand looks like it's all about arm strength, but a strong back plays a big role too, and this is where cobra pose comes in, according to yoga teacher Kate Mak.
When performed correctly, cobra pose activates many of the muscles in your back and all the muscles surrounding the spine, essential for finding a strong handstand in your practice. As you practice more and more and are able to comfortably hold cobra pose for longer without straining the back or neck, you are able to help "condition and tap into these back muscles."
Once your back is strong and feeling open in cobra, there is almost a slight pelvic tilt into the floor that engages the transverse abdominal muscles — being able to utilize these muscles is when we take away the "banana" shape (where the chest is puffed forward and the feet are slightly back) and are able to hold a straight Handstand.
Here are step-by-step instructions to building a strong cobra pose:
- Lie on your belly with your arms with spread hands on the floor under your shoulders, hugging the elbows into your body. Bring your legs together so your knees are touching.
- Begin to lift your head and chest up off the ground while keeping your feet and thighs pressing against the ground. You should feel a gentle arch in your lower back, and if your back is really flexible, you can begin to straighten your arms a little more.
- Actively roll your shoulders back and down away from your ears, elongating your neck. Keep looking in front of you, or if you want more of a stretch, drop your head back between your shoulder blades—just be sure to not lose the integrity of your shoulders rolling back. You don't want your shoulders inching up toward your ears.
- Stay here, opening through the chest and making sure to relax all your muscles (don't clench your butt!). Take deep breaths, at least five or more, and then slowly lower your chest back to the ground. Lay your arms next to the sides of your body and bring one cheek to the ground.
- When you're ready, you can bring your hands by your shoulders, press into your arms, bend your knees, and come into child's pose to release your lower back and neck.