Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana, in Sanskrit, which literally means Supported Cobra Pose) is a great gentle backbend. It’s perfect for beginners to yoga, or for more advanced practitioners to warm up the lower back, spine, and shoulders before more intense backbends. Sphinx pose is great because it can be done in either passive form, for a deeper stretch and more restorative practice, or in a more active form to strengthen the core muscles.
While Sphinx pose is excellent for releasing stress or tightness in the shoulders and lower back if you do experience pinching or have had back problems in the past, always check with a doctor or medical professional beforehand. Similarly, if you have abdominal pain or have had surgery recently, get the green light from an expert first. As always with yoga, if at any time you are practicing Sphinx something doesn’t feel right, get out of the pose gently but quickly.
How to Do Sphinx Pose:
If you have ever seen the Sphinx in Egypt, whether in a photo or in the flesh, it won’t be hard to understand where the name comes from. It involves, lying on your belly, resting on the elbows, with the head lifted like the Sphinx.
Sphinx pose is essentially the same whether you choose to do it passively or actively. Both follow a similar anatomical structure.
The basic pose involves:
1: Start lying on your belly with arms outstretched and leaning on your elbows, which should be directly under your shoulders, hugged in towards the ribcage.
1: Feet should be hip-width apart, toes untucked.
3: Make sure the backbends are spread apart, stretching out the hands, shoulders relaxed and drawn away from the ears, and a gentle broadening through the chest.
4: The head should be gently lifting towards the sky with the face relaxed and breath slow and steady.
5: You can place a bolster or blanket under the belly if pregnant or simple if it feels good.
There are, of course, some tweaks to this pose that can make active or passive. Following the basic pose, choose from the following anatomical instructions to make your pose strong or relaxing.
There are a few simple tweaks that you can make to make Sphinx pose more active. If you follow these steps, it can really strengthen the lower back, shoulders, and core, as well as stretch the chest.
Follow these steps to make your Sphinx pose strong.
1: Press your toes into the mat and lift your kneecaps to engage the legs. Gluts, quads and inner thighs should all activated.
2: Make sure that you tighten the core. In order to do this correctly, the lower belly should lift off the ground ever so slightly, and the lower back should also engage, to make sure you are getting the deep transverse abdominals.
3: Stretch the fingers and press the entire hand into your yoga mat actively. This should engage the lower arms.
4 To complement this press the elbows actively into the mat, to engage the upper arms. This should cause the chest to rise a little higher.
5: Make sure that the shoulders are actively drawing down and away from the ears and there is an active broadening of the collarbones. Lift the crown of the head towards the sky, to get extra length in the neck.
Now there are times when yoga needs to be calm, relaxing and restorative. Having a more passive Sphinx pose means you can hold it longer and get a deeper stretch in the chest and shoulders, and really get into that deep connective tissue. I know I personally love to do a passive version after hours working at my desk to loosen my tight, tight shoulders. Sphinx can be very common in yin yoga in this form.
Follow these steps to make your Sphinx pose gentle and restorative.
1: The belly should be nice and loose, breath should be able to flow easily and calmly.
2: Fingers should still be apart, but not so stretched as in the active pose, just gently wide enough to help balance on the arms.
3 Arms should be flat, propped up onto the elbows in a way that is comfortable and natural.
4: Shoulders should be relaxed, down and away from the ears with a natural, relaxed broadening through the chest. This should allow for breath to flow deeply, creating more space for the lungs.
5: The crown of the head should be gently lifted towards the sky, with the muscles in the neck relaxed.
6: Face muscles should be completely relaxed. Hold for up to 3 minutes, breathing deeply.
There are many benefits of Sphinx pose. It is an all-around excellent pose from beginners to advanced practitioners. Here is why!
1.It opens the chest and strengthens the shoulders
The broadening of chest allows the muscles to stretch and separate. With many hours spent hunched over computers, or sitting with bad posture, this is the perfect antidote. At the same time, the shoulders will strengthen to support the opening of the chest.
2.It is deeply relaxing
By opening the chest, we also allow for the breath to flow more deeply, creating more space for the lungs to fill up. Breathing more deeply allows for the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our body’s way of restoring and reviving itself.
3.It strengthens the lower back
The lower back muscles often get forgotten and left weak. They are a source of pain for many people, young and old. Sphinx pose is a great way to gently strengthen the muscles in a way that is safe and supported.
4.Prepares the body for more advanced backbends
Sphinx is the perfect warm up to more advanced back bends. It gently warms up the muscles in the lower back, making it perfect to then move into deeper backbends, like Cobra, Upward Facing Dog or Bow Pose.
5.It is great for digestion
The gentle pressure of the belly on the mat helps stimulate digestions and give the inner organs a little massage. It’s great for relieving gas or bloating.
Poses to flow to and from
It’s great to do some Cat/Cow first, to warm up the spine. You can also do some gentle seated spinal twists before Sphinx
I love to use Sphinx pose instead of Cobra for my first few vinyasas while warming up. So flowing from Plank, down to the belly and coming up into Sphinx Pose, before pressing back through Child’s Pose to Downward Facing Dog, is a great little flow.
It’s also excellent to move into deeper backbends after Sphinx Pose, like Bow Pose or Camel.