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Upward Facing Dog vs. Cobra: What’s the Difference and How to Practice

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

The upward facing dog pose and cobra pose are often practiced interchangeably in sun salutations. But what are the differences between these poses and how can you practice them?

In this blog we’ll explore how you can step by step build up to the upward facing dog pose and use other postures like the cobra as a foundation for your practice.

Want to be guided through a progressive yoga practice building up to the upward facing dog pose? Practice along with my step by step sequence for upward facing dog pose.

Difference Between Baby Cobra, Big Cobra and Upward Facing Dog

The main difference between baby cobra, big cobra, and upward dog is the positioning of the arms and hips. In baby cobra you have your arms bent and lower ribs on the ground. This makes the backbend smaller, more stable and makes it easier to drop the shoulders down.

As you move into a big cobra pose you straighten the arms but keep your hips on the ground. The backbend becomes larger and it's more important to keep your belly firm to protect your lower back.

For upward dog you not only have your arms straight but also lift your hips from the ground. Here the backbend becomes larger still and it's important to keep your hands and feet heavy, as well as lengthen up through your spine.

How to Focus on the Cobra and Upward Dog

Try using the following sequence to work on your technique of the cobra and upward dog. You’ll find that the postures baby cobra, big cobra, and upward dog all build progressively on top of each other.

I always like to start by practicing the baby cobra. If this feels comfortable you can progress (within one yoga practice or over many) towards the big cobra and from there to the upward dog.

Lying Over a Bolster

chest opener yoga pose

Start by taking a few minutes to lie over a bolster or folded up blanket to gently open your chest and shoulders. See if you can actively work on lengthening and deepening your breath.

You could experiment with reaching your arms out wide to the side or having them up and over your head.

Leg Raises

leg raises work what muscles

Practicing leg raises before the cobra and upward dog will help strengthen and engage your core. Making it easier for you to keep your belly firm and protect your lower back.

If it feels too intense keeping both legs straight and together for your leg raises you could experiment with doing one leg at a time or keeping the legs a little bent and not lowering your legs as low to the ground.


yoga plank pose variations

The plank pose is a great way to focus on finding a strong foundation through your hands and feet. Spread your fingers wide as you ground through your palms and lift up out of your shoulders.

See if you can keep your legs active and long, just like you need for cobra and upward dog.

Baby Cobra

cobra pose muscles used

In the baby cobra pose focus on lengthening your legs back and spine forward. You can keep your feet heavy on the ground, belly firm and reach your chest forward and up. Do your best to keep your shoulders relaxed and elbows drawing into your torso.

Once you’ve found your position focus on breathing slowly and steadily in the pose.

Big Cobra

If you’re quite comfortable in baby cobra you can experiment to move into a bigger cobra by lengthening your arms and reaching your chest further up. This time your lower ribs might lift from the ground but your hips and feet stay heavy in your mat.

With the arms straighter it can be tempting to let the shoulders lift up. Resist this by allowing your shoulders to stay heavy.

Upward Facing Dog

You can move towards upward facing dog if both baby and big cobra felt accessible. Keep pressing your hands and tops of the feet into the mat and see if this time you can not only lengthen the arms but also lift the hips up.

Focus on keeping your belly firm and legs active. If you do have any back pain feel free to come out and practice baby cobra instead.

Happy practicing!

X Irene

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