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Exploring the Myths of Asana—Bhujangasana


Bhujangasana, or Cobra Pose, represents our ability overcome fear. While the cobra is generally considered to be a creature that evokes fear, our ability to look past this initial instinct and view fear from a new perspective is key to helping us move past it.

As discussed last month, around the neck of Nataraja, or Shiva, hangs a cobra. The cobra’s venom is a symbol of avidya, or the veil of illusion that prevents us from knowing our true nature as divine. It is this veil that keeps us living in fear. Removing this veil removes the fearsome nature of the cobra, for fear is tied to the veil of illusion. Once we understand our true nature, fear is no longer relevant.

Snake and cobra symbolism is scattered throughout Indian mythology. Shiva’s son, Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, also wears a cobra—around his waist as a symbol of “his commitment to mastering his fears,” according to Alanna Kaivalya, author of Myths of the Asanas. Ganesh strives to live a spiritual life as his father has taught him.

In one Indian myth, the world itself is built upon the coils of the serpent Ananta Shesha. Vishnu is also often depicted resting on the coils of Ananta Shesha. It is said that when Ananta Shesha uncoils time and creation take place, and when he recoils the universe ceases to exist.

One of the most common symbols of the cobra in yogic mythology is the coiled serpent at the base of the spine, awakened by the rising of kundalini energy up the sushumna nadi (main prana channel that runs up the spine), coiling around the chakras as it rises. When kundalini energy is awakened through the practice of yoga and meditation, this energy is freed to rise up toward the crown chakra, creating a state of enlightenment. This symbolism is also seen in depictions of the Buddha with a cobra positioned above his head, symbolizing his enlightened state.

When practicing Cobra Pose, try to change your own perspective. Feel your chest fill with air as you rise up against the pull of gravity. Release tension in your arms in an effort to find ease amidst effort. Only through surrender will you find the strength to hold Cobra Pose with an easy, slow breath. Let this practice help you remove fear in Cobra Pose as well as other more challenging poses in your practice.