The first four postures of the floor series in Bikram yoga are called the Spine Strengthening Series: Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Locust Pose (Salabhasana), Full Locust Pose (Poorna-Salabhasana) and Bow Pose (Dhanurasana). These asanas all include elements of back bending or spinal extension. You might be wondering how bending your back actually stretches your spine? And it does seem a bit counter-intuitive, since we associate spinal extension negatively with compressing the lower back; however, medically speaking, when vertebral discs bulge out, they often bulge backward and spinal extension opens the front of the disc and allows the disc fluid to resettle into its normal forward position. This helps push the disc back into its original position and can diminish the intensity or extent of lower back or leg symptoms. The back bending also stabilizes and strengthens the core abdominal and lower back muscles.
Named after the king cobra, who is said to have the strongest spine in the world, Cobra Pose is meant to resemble a snake before it strikes. Cobra Pose provides relief from disc-related pain by alleviating compression of the disc on the nerve root. This pose centralizes pain by moving it away from the extremities and towards the back. Centralizing the pain allows the source of the pain to be treated rather than just the symptoms. To achieve Cobra Pose, squeeze your glutes tight and push your hips down into mat, keep your heels together and lock your knees. Avoid using arm strength. Most of the strength comes from lower back muscles. Remember it is not a push up.
From the strong cobra we move to the restful locust. Don’t get your hopes up however; while full expression of this posture may mimic a locust at rest, there really isn’t anything peaceful about this pose. Both Locust and Full Locust work the mind and body by encouraging mental focus and determination, as well as, strengthening the upper and lower back and core. Locust also helps to stretch and induce blood flow to the elbow joint, which means no more tennis elbow. To achieve Locust Pose, place your elbows against your abdomen, making sure they are straight. Spread your fingers so that they are pointed toward your knees. Keep your leg muscles contracted. Make sure your hips square and always touching with your arms while lifting legs up. Try to shift your body weight to the top of your body.
We conclude the series with Bow Pose. The 360 degree flexion of the spine in this posture revitalizes all the spinal nerves by increasing circulation. Bow opens up the rib cage, which allows the lungs to expand more fully. Bow also aids in digestion and improves function of large and small intestine, liver, kidney and spleen. To achieve Bow don’t pull with your arms. Just kick with the legs. Lift up your torso. Your knees will try to go out but keep them 6 inches apart.
So much of our life is spent slumped over a computer or hunched over carrying groceries. We need to stand tall and strengthen our spine. These four postures help start us on that mission.