Monday, September 1, 2014

Quit Being a Baby Ego, and Start Being a Baby Cobra

Today I'd like to talk about a pose that every student of vinyasa yoga has done before, perhaps daily: Baby Cobra.

This varies from teacher to teacher, but I always cue knees-chest-chin to baby cobra for the first few vinyasas in my classes, and if I get the feeling most of my students aren't exactly yoga veterans, that's as far as we go. In a more mixed class, I'll offer plank, floor, cobra, and chaturanga to upward-facing dog, but I emphasize that knees-chest-chin baby cobra remains a solid choice.

It's a solid choice alright, but very few yogis take it once I open up the floor to other options.

And that's a shame, because Baby Cobra is an awesome pose! In fact, it's one of my favourites. It improves mobility in the upper back and shoulders while stabilizing and protecting the sensitive lower back, promotes expansion of the chest, highlights body awareness and isolation, and works both the front, and the back of the core. It's a pose that's good for everybody, and there are very few injuries or issues that make it a bad idea to do.

With all these rad benefits, why are people so quick to ditch it?

Well, the name doesn't help. Who wants to spend an hour and a half doing itty bitty baby cobra? It's understandable that the assumption would be that this pose is for newbs (and babies) only, and the big kids are all moving on to more exciting things. Like a lifetime of back pain.

Because, you guys, upward facing dog IS a more advanced pose than baby cobra! Do you know what that means? It means that you need to be a more advanced practitioner in order to do it safely! It does NOT mean that doing it makes you a more advanced practitioner, or that the benefits of updog are greater or better than the benefits of baby cobra. Just because it gets tossed around in all level classes does not mean you should be doing it, and if you can do upward dog safely, that still doesn't mean you always should. You need to consider what benefits your body is looking for in a given class, and choose the variation that will help you reach those goals.

Before attempting it (even if, or maybe especially if, you've been doing it for a while already), you need to take the time to learn it properly, and that means either waiting for a class in which a teacher takes the time to workshop it, or getting yourself a private lesson where it can be covered with the attention to detail necessary for proper alignment.

For most of us, it's not a matter of doing baby cobra one day, and upward dog the next. It's a pose we need to work into slowly, as our bodies build the strength necessary to support themselves in this shape. There are several in-between stages you can rock that will keep your spine safe, and maximize the benefits of both shapes, while building the strength you need to tackle the Big Dog.

Humans are pack animals: it feels good for all of us to be doing the same thing at the same time, especially when the music is pumping, the teacher is inspired, and we're all moving as one, our breaths synchronized. Of course we don't want to break up the cosmic harmony! But when we're untrue to the body we're working with on any given day, we violate Ahimsa, and disrupt the cosmic harmony within.

Our baby ego sees our separation, and believes the shallow unity of doing the same physical action at the same time can bring us together, but the Big You knows the truth: we are already one, and if we choose to sacrifice what's best for ourselves for the sake of our ego, we don't just hurt ourselves. We hurt everyone we wish to feel that already existing connection with!

So here's a challenge for you: Even if you've carefully learned Upward Facing dog, even if you have the strength to do it beautifully and safely one-hundred and fifty times in a row, even if the benefits of that deeper backbend are more immediately useful to you than those of Baby Cobra, walk into a yoga class, and choose Baby Cobra. Choose it over, and over again. Choose it every single opportunity...and notice who is suddenly freed to try it along with you...starting with yourself.

Live Omily,

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