Time to take your backbend to the next level. You've probably seen (or even practiced) backbends like Wheel Pose where your hands and feet are on the floor while you create this popular heart opening posture. Well, have you tried Dhanurasana or Bow Pose? Not a bow that you'd tie with your shoe laces, but an archer's bow that is coupled with an arrow. Yes! You can create the shape of that type of bow with your own body! It's an intense backbend and requires great flexibility, focus, and strength that is practiced while practically balancing on your belly! With Dhanurasana (don-yoor-ah-sah-nah) you'll experience an opening through your chest and shoulders, it conditions and massages your belly, it stretches your thigh muscles, and it strengthens and frees your lower back.
Bow Pose has some features that resemble Locust and Cobra Pose. In fact, these two postures are great yoga positions to practice before taking aim with Bow Pose. And due to the intermediate to advance nature of Bow Pose, there are also some variations of the posture that are approachable to further guide you toward the full expression of the pose. Let's take a look at how you can practice this backbend.
You can begin by lying on your stomach on your yoga mat with your arms down by your side. For now, you can just rest your head on the mat. To ease into this dynamic pose, bend one knee so you can reach back and catch your ankle. Then do the same with the other. Ideally, your knees will be remain hip distance apart. Flex your feet to keep your legs engaged throughout the posture. You'll already feel the opening of the chest and the opening of the shoulders when you reach back for your feet. Keep your neck neutral; aligned with the rest of your spine as you continue to move into this pose.
Here is where the pose begins to get interesting. While holding onto your ankles, you will begin to pull the string back of the bow ready to shoot the arrow! The center of that taught string is the connection of your hands and ankles. As you lift your feet into the air, this will draw your legs and upper body away from the ground. At first, your chest and belly will pull away from the ground. Meanwhile, your shins and thighs will lift away. Essentially, you will be resting on your pelvis in this full backbend posture. Be very mindful of your low back; this is a very deep backbend. The higher you raise your feet into the air, the deeper the flexion in your lower back region. If need be, lower yourself to decrease the intensity.
Breath is the key to the pose. When you inhale, fill your lungs with air. This is how you prepare yourself to move into Bow Pose. When you exhale, be sure to engage your abdominal muscles. Even though you'll be lying on your stomach in this position, you still need to flex these muscles to provide support for the lower back so that your lumbar spine is protected when you lift.
If holding onto both feet in Bow Pose seems to be too much for your body to handle, that's ok. There's a variation that is just as effective. Instead of grabbing both ankles at the same time, try holding onto one leg at a time while the other remains on the floor. Let's say you are holding onto your right ankle. That means your left leg remains lengthened on your mat. To help balance and stabilize your pose, it's recommended that you extend your left arm in front of you with your palm on the floor. This will keep your entire body level and aligned as you lift only the one foot into the air for your Half Bow Pose. Hold the posture for 5-8 deep breaths, release, relax, then do the other side. If you're doing the full Bow Pose, see if you can hold the posture for 3-5 breaths. Feel free to relax afterward, rest, then repeat the pose one or two more times.
Because you are on your stomach, the abdominal region receives a massage which can release tight muscles and even encourage healthy digestion. With your arms drawn back to hold onto your ankles, you'll experience a wonderful stretch across your upper chest and the front side of your shoulders. (And these are areas that can use some good opening. Poses like this can improve your posture!) Your legs also favor in this dynamic yoga pose: as the legs are lifted into the air, your thighs and hip flexors receive a much needed stretch. And due to the flexion in the back, you're engaging and strengthening core muscles to achieve overall alignment and stability throughout your entire body.