Cobra ConcernsWhile the cobra pose is a pose that many people readily associate with yoga, this does not automatically guarantee its safety for all types of back problems. The basic movement of the cobra is to arch the spine backward. People with facet joint problems, for example, spondylolisthesis, should approach cobra pose cautiously, if at all. Facet joint problems tend to become irritated when the spine is arched. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if this pose is okay for your condition.
Modify the Cobra for SafetyTo modify cobra, treat yourself as a beginner, regardless of any prior exposure to yoga you may have. You can follow the instructions for this pose, omitting the plank position. Just start lying on your belly, and allow the floor to provide you with support. Beginning the cobra from the plank position is asking for trouble - the plank is an advanced move that challenges even those with no back problems at all.
If you are in acute pain, the cobra pose should not be attempted. Otherwise, listen carefully to your pain and let it guide you as to how far you go with the pose.
Another way to modify the cobra for safety is to place your forearms on the floor, rather than your palms. When you do so, be sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders. This will allow you to be in control of the movement, and will focus the work on your spine and back muscles.
Descend Your Shoulder Blades Down Your BackAs with downward facing dog pose, descending your shoulder blades down your back will help to support your upper spine while it arches. abdominal muscles are stretching, but with the tops of your feet pressed into the floor, those muscles will be working hard, and getting stronger.
Kisner, C., & Colby, L.A. (2002). Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.