Two extremely common poses, cobra and upward facing dog, are part of a typical sun salutation. Many teachers also invite students to engage in a “vinyasa,” or a linked sequence of poses, which often starts in plank and moves to chaturanga, then cobra or upward facing dog, and finally downward facing dog. Even in more advanced classes, students may begin their vinyasas with the less demanding cobra pose before substituting it with the deeper backbend and more active elements of upward facing dog. However, beginning students often find the differences between these two common and interchangeable poses difficult to grasp.
In cobra pose, the elbows remain bent and the thighs stay resting on the floor. Rather than using the hands to support the body weight, the hands should be pulling the chest forward and you should lift the upper body using the core. In fact, when in low cobra, you should be able to lift your hands off the ground.
In upward facing dog, the hands are situated directly below the shoulders and the arms are straight. The thighs and pelvis are lifted up off the floor, so that the body is suspended from the shoulders down through the tops of the feet. Mixing up these critical differences can do significant damage to your lower back, so be sure to pay close attention to your body positioning in your next sun salutation.