Upward Bow Pose
Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) is an iconic pose in the yoga canon. Visually it represents the acrobatic flexibility that so many of us long for when we first begin the yoga practice. But too often the feeling of the pose doesn’t match that open, soaring look.
Extending yourself backwards and into the unknown helps you to confront your fears when life presents you with challenges. Backbends open the chest and heart centre (Anahata chakra) and encourage inhalation – an action associated with embracing life. Because of this expansion into the heart centre, you are also bringing a joyful vitality into your life. Bending backwards turns the body out to face the world and helps you to see things from a different perspective.
Benefits of Upward Bow Pose
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) is an uplifting posture. It stimulates the nervous system and opens the heart, and can leave you glowing with energy and vitality for the rest of the day. But Urdhva Dhanurasana can also be used as a tool for gaining clarity and focus. Upward Bow Pose strengthens your arms, wrists, abdomen, legs, shoulders and chest, so expect smooth, toned muscles.
This pose opens up the chest and strengthens the lungs. Urdhva Dhanurasana is also instrumental in allowing increased amounts of oxygen into the rib cage. Respiration will undoubtedly improve. Studies have shown that Upward Bow Pose induces therapeutic effects in practitioners with asthma. Remember to breathe deeply while holding the posture.Urdhva Dhanurasana enhances the nervous system and improves hormone secretions that keep your body in optimal health.
It is recommended to hold Upward Bow Pose for one to three minutes, gradually increasing the time with practice. Don’t fret if you have not incorporated Urdhva Dhanurasana into your practice yet, as bridge pose is an earlier stage of the asana that may feel more accessible. Yoga poses, particularly advanced poses, have extreme health benefits but also contraindications. You should perform this pose with extreme caution if you have suffered a back injury, have carpal tunnel syndrome, heart irregularities, headaches, diarrhea or high or low blood pressure.
How to Do Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Warm up your thoracic spine with eight cycles of Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana to Bitilasana). Then practice three rounds of Surya Namaskar A, followed by some simple lunges in which you emphasize pressing the back thigh up toward the ceiling as you drop your tailbone toward the floor. Next, do three rounds of Surya Namaskar B. This short sequence will begin to open your chest, shoulders, and hip flexors. To stretch the quadriceps and imprint the parallel orientation of the legs, sit in a modified version of Hero Pose (Virasana), with the thighs parallel, and the knees and thighs hip-distance apart. Feel free to sit on a block if you need to. From here, place your arms in Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana) position to continue opening your shoulders.
- Come to lie on your back in Corpse Pose (Savasana).
- Bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet onto your mat close to the buttocks. Reach down with your fingertips and make sure that you can just graze your heels. The feet should be parallel and hips’ distance apart.
- Bend your elbows and bring the palms of your hands underneath your shoulders with the fingertips pointing towards your feet.
- Inhale and press down into your palms and your feet as you lift your shoulders and hips up off the floor. Do not press all the way up yet.
- Bring the crown of your head to the mat. Pause here for a moment as you make sure that your elbows are staying parallel and not splaying out to the sides.
- Straighten your arms as you lift your head off the floor.
- Make sure to keep your feet parallel and knees in line with your feet.
- Reach your chest towards toward the wall behind you.
- Begin to straighten your legs.
- To come down, tuck your chin into your chest and lower down slowly.
- Rest, allowing the knees to knock together.
- Try to do your backbends in sets of three. If it’s too much to do three wheels at first, you can mix in a bridge or two.
After you come down, roll to your side and gently push yourself up to Staff Pose (Dandasana). Take several breaths here in preparation for a series of quieting poses. Advanced backbends should always be followed by 15 to 20 minutes of quieting poses so you can bring your energy down in a progressive way. Follow Dandasana with Janu Sirsasana (Head-of-the-Knee Pose), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand), Halasana (Plow Pose), and a simple reclining twist.
Finish by spending a few minutes in either Savasana (Corpse Pose) or seated meditation. Observe the way your practice has affected the quality of your mind. Over time, you’ll notice that practicing Urdhva Dhanurasana with patience, deliberation, and a spirit of inquiry will not only open and strengthen you physically but also teach you to be calm and focused on and off the mat.
Upward Bow Pose for Beginners
There are many, many reasons that Upward Bow can be innaccessible. If you’re unable to do Upward Bow, it may be due to lack of mobility or lack of strength. It’s also possible that you have discomfort in your wrists, shoulders, or knees that’s holding you back. Your best bet is to do a combination of postures that address all of these factors. Practice Cobra, Bridge Pose, and Reclined Backbend over a block for your spine and shoulders; practice Low Lunge Sun Salutations and King Arthur’s Pose to open your shoulders; and, practice Handstand (or Half-Handstand with your feet at the wall) to develop strength. If your wrists are uncomfortable in Handstand/Half-Handstand, practice Dolphin Pose instead.
- If you have tight shoulders, try taking your hands a little wider than your shoulders before you push up. Sometimes this little bit of extra space allows you to straighten your arms more.
- Try the pose at the wall. Take two blocks and place them against the wall. Put each hand on a block and then push up as described above. If that’s hard on your wrists, try leaning the blocks against the wall at 45 degree angles.
- Recruit a partner. Get yourself set up on the floor and then with your partner standing behind your head and facing you. Have then scoot their feet almost under your shoulders. When you press up, hold their ankles instead of having your hands on the floor.
- Use a strap on your upper arms to keep them from splaying. Make a loop in the strap that is about the width of your shoulders. Slide this onto your arms above the elbow before your press up.
- If you have trouble with the legs separating and the feet turning out, try squeezing a block between your thighs to help you keep the legs parallel.
Upward Bow Pose for Advanced
Upward Bow Pose is a challenging posture to perform properly. It’s important to make sure you’re doing it with correct alignment; otherwise, it’s very easy to injure yourself!
- Lift one leg straight up toward the ceiling. Repeat on both sides.
- Walk your feet in towards your hands.
- Come up to stand from Upward Bow. Then drop back from a standing position into Upward Bow. When you are first attempting this, walk your hands up a down a wall.
Open Your Heart
By learning to open your heart in your physical practice, it may gradually help you move stored emotions and you’ll gradually be able to forgive, let go of resentment, and release fear. You’ll also be able to let people in again. Ultimately, when you live with an open heart, you’ll experience more love and joy. You’ll be better able to listen to people, to accept them for who they are, and to respond to them from your deepest essence.Back-bending poses open the heart area physically and energetically and set the foundation for having a more open heart in your daily life. They require steady effort and an ability to surrender to something bigger that is always there to support you.