Cobra Yoga Pose Vs. Upward Dog: What Is The Difference?

At first glance, the cobra pose and the upward-facing dog look identical. After all, both poses are a type of prone backbend, so aren’t they the same thing? Although they look similar, they don’t mirror each other. The upward dog is more of an advanced pose than the cobra pose, as it offers extra activation and engagement.

That’s the cut-and-dry version, but stick around if you want to learn more!

A Closer Look: Cobra Pose vs. Upward Dog

Cobra pose and upward dog look strikingly similar, but one key difference sets them apart: your lower body. Okay, that doesn’t make much sense by itself, but before we explain, let’s look at each pose as a whole.

Cobra Pose

Also known as Bhujangasana, the cobra pose is a backbend that offers a deep stretch throughout the front of the body while strengthening the back side. It’s a heart-opening pose, so you’ll feel the stretch throughout your chest and abdominal muscles.

Outside of yoga sessions, many folks use cobra poses as a stretch to lengthen and open the abdominal muscles after an intense, targeted workout. The pose requires you to push through your hands to support the pose, so you may feel a burn in your back muscles.

Baby Cobra Pose

The baby cobra pose, also known as Ardha Bhujangasana, is a “miniature” version of the cobra pose. In the baby version of the pose, you don’t raise your upper body as high. This is a great place to start if you’re new to the cobra pose or are inflexible.

The hands float above the ground directly beneath the shoulders, with a slight arch in the spine. The chest and shoulders hover above the ground, allowing the spine to become introduced to the early stages of the backbend.

If hovering your hands is tough, you can always place your forearms on the ground (elbows directly beneath your shoulders) and push through your forearms. This variation offers extra support for beginners, as it allows you to support your body while learning the pose.

Upward Dog

Also known as Urdhva Mukha Savasana, the upward-facing dog is a muscle-burning pose that offers an excellent stretch through the front of the body while engaging muscles throughout the upper body. You’ll feel the stretch through your chest, spine, and abdominals while the wrists, arms, and shoulders begin to feel the burn.

Like the cobra pose, participants must push through their hands to open the stretch. However, unlike the cobra pose, the upward-facing dog requires participants to support their body weight in their upper body and toes as the knees hover above the ground.

This pose (and cobra pose) is an excellent way to prepare for deeper backbends in yoga, like the locust pose.

So, What Is The Difference?

Cobra Yoga Pose

Now that we know the basics of each pose (which are strikingly similar), what’s the difference? As mentioned, the difference lies in how you use (or don’t use) your lower body. In the cobra pose, your lower body remains on the ground, which offers extra support. Since you don’t need to support most of your body weight in your upper body, the cobra pose is excellent for beginners.

On the other hand, the upward-facing dog requires you to lift your lower body off the ground. So, instead of relaxing in a deep stretch with your thighs and knees on the ground, you hover your entire body off the floor.

The shift forces you to utilize the muscles in your upper body as you push away from the ground and support your body. While the upward-facing dog still offers a wonderful stretch, it takes things a step up by adding a strength factor.

Upward Dog: Cobra Pose, But Advanced

Although similar, the cobra pose and the upward dog aren’t the same. If you try each move, you’ll feel the difference. You should feel the stretch throughout your upper body with your back muscles engaged in the cobra pose.

However, once you take your feet off the ground, your shoulders, arms (hello, triceps!), and wrists need to support your body weight, so you’ll start to feel the difference. Given this crucial difference, you can view the upward-facing dog as a step up from the cobra pose.

Each move has its place, and although they share many similarities, they’re not quite the same.

Benefits Of Cobra Pose And Upward Dog

With the notable similarities between the cobra pose and the upward dog, the shared benefits list is no surprise. Like any yoga pose, these two have a few benefits, including:

  • Strengthens the spine, arms, and wrists
  • Chest-opening stretch helps combat the dreaded “office slump”
  • Stimulates the organs of the abdomen
  • Aids in improving range of motion and flexibility
  • Helps with alignment and posture
  • Strengthens the back muscles
  • Stretches the abdominal muscles
  • Stretches the hip flexors (many people experience tightness here due to excessive sitting)

How To: Cobra Pose And Upward Dog

Ready to start learning the cobra pose and upward dog? The process is simple, but remember to listen to your body as you introduce the pose. If you feel discomfort or pain, lower into a modified version of the pose. For example, drop to the cobra pose if you’re in the upward dog. Or, if you’re in the cobra pose, drop to the baby cobra pose with your forearms on the ground.

When ready, advance the pose, but always listen to your body’s cues. Otherwise, you risk injury, which will set you back in progress. So, for best results, be attentive to how you train!

Here’s how to do the cobra pose:

  1. Spread out a yoga mat on the floor. Ensure your mat won’t slip or move around as you move into the pose. Alternatively, practice on a padded surface, like a carpeted floor (if you don’t have a yoga mat).
  2. Lie on your belly on the yoga mat with your toes on the floor.
  3. Place your hands on the ground directly beneath your shoulders.
  4. Gently push through your hands to lift your upper body away from the floor. Continue until your arms fully extend (don’t lock your elbows) or until you find a comfortable version of the stretch.
  5. Keep your hips, thighs, knees, and toes on the ground. If you can’t keep your hips on the ground, bend your arms to lower your body into a more gentle backbend.
  6. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, breathing evenly throughout the pose.
  7. Bend your arms to lower your body back to the ground.

Follow these steps to complete the upward dog:

  1. Follow the steps above to enter the cobra pose.
  2. Once you push your body into the cobra pose, lift your lower body off the ground by pressing the tops of your feet into the ground. You should feel your legs engage to help support your body weight.
  3. Hold the pose for 15 to 30 seconds, breathing evenly as you hold the pose. When you’re ready, lower your hips and legs to the ground, then lower your upper body to the floor.

Common Mistakes In Cobra Pose And Upward Dog

Without proper form, it’s easy to injure yourself as you move through your yoga flows. So, as you practice cobra pose and upward dog, keep these tips and tricks in mind to avoid common mistakes:

  • Push through your hands: Many people fail to actively push through their hands, which allows the shoulders to creep upward toward the ears. When this happens, you may feel pain in your shoulder blades and back as your body is in an awkward position. So, press your weight into your hands to prevent your shoulders from meeting your ears.
  • Remember to breathe: When yoga gets tough, many of us hold our breaths. Since oxygen is essential to avoid passing out, remember to breathe evenly through the pose (even when it gets complex).
  • Engage your legs: This tip is more applicable to the upward dog, as you need to support your body weight. As you press your feet into the floor, your legs should engage. If you don’t make your body work with you, you’ll likely find it nearly impossible to hold these poses.
  • Keep your elbows and wrists under your shoulders: Proper alignment is essential to avoid injuries. If your elbows bow out or your wrists aren’t stacked, you may feel pain through the move. So, remember to keep your shoulders, elbows, and wrists stacked directly above each other.
  • Align your legs: As you hold your body in the cobra pose, pick an alignment for your legs. You can either squeeze your legs together or keep your feet hip-width apart, whatever feels more comfortable. Press your pubis (aka pubic bone) into the mat and focus on lengthening your tailbone down toward the mat. This should help relieve compression in the lower back.