By Louise Vas, with the guidance of Yogananth Andiappan
Poses demonstrated by Angela Yeung
In this month’s featured pose, we look into an intermediate version of Dhanurasana or Bow Pose. Dhanurasa mimics the shape of an archer’s bow.
The below warm-up poses focus on chest opening and hip extension in preparation for the final pose.
Shoulder Rotation using strap
1. Start in a standing position with the feet hip-width apart, and hold a strap with the arms wider than the shoulders.
2. Inhale and raise the arms and push the chest out.
3. On exhale, bring the arms back and down, slowly rounding the back and rotating the shoulders inward.
4. Expand the chest and raise the arms above the head, and bring the arms forward and down.
5. Repeat the movement several times in a continuous movement.
Banarasana / Lunge variation – quadriceps stretch
1. Come into a low lunge position with the right leg forward; the right hand is resting on the thigh.
2. Bend the left knee and with the left hand, reach for the foot from behind. Rotate the left shoulder outwards to keep a good grip on the foot, with the elbow pulled in and the fingers pointing forward.
3. Inhale and on exhale, bring the left heel closer to the left buttocks. Raise the torso and arch the back.
4. Hold the pose for a few deep breaths. Slowly release the pose and repeat on the other side.
Ustrasana / Camel Pose variation
1. Stand on the knees and tuck the toes. Bring both hands on the lower back with the fingers pointing sideways. Rotate the shoulders outwards and squeeze the elbows in to open the chest.
2. Inhale and on exhale, push the hips forward, lift the chest and raise the chin, arching the back segmentally.
3. Focus on lifting the chest and drawing the shoulders away from the ears.
4. Breathe lightly in this pose and hold for a few breaths.
5. To come out, bring the chin closer to the chest, keep the faze forward and sit on the heels.
Nirakunjasana / Heart Pose (Raised legs variation)
1. Come into tabletop position with the feet against a wall. The arms are directly under the shoulders, knees hip-width apart and the feet in line with the knees.
2. Inhale and on exhale, lean forward and slide the hands forward to bring the chest in and chin to the floor. Let the weight of the body rest on the chest area and ensure that there is not too much pressure on the neck and jaw.
3. Keep the hip to be above/in line with the knees, and maintain light breaths.
4. Inhale and on exhale, raise the knees to straighten the legs. Hold the pose for a few counts and slowly bring the knees down.
Matsyasana / Fish Pose variation – use of blocks
1. Sit on the floor and stack two blocks, one flat and the other upright. Place the blocks about 6 inches away from the hips.
2. Place the hands behind the hips and lifting the chest to arch the back, slowly lower the torso and aim for the middle back to rest on the block. Make sure that the blocks are below the shoulder blades. Make small adjustments as needed.
3. When the arch is settled, raise the arms over the head and hold the opposite elbow. Keep the legs straight and flex the ankles to extend the calf muscles.
4. Hold the pose for a few subtle breaths. To come out of the pose, bring one elbow on the floor by the side of the body, and slowly roll over to the same side.
Dhanurasana / Bow Pose
Start in a prone position and bend the knees. Rotate the shoulders out and hold arches of the feet. Inhale and on exhale, lift the chin and chest from the floor and at the same time, lift the knees. Use the strength of the legs to pull the arms back, opening the chest. Bring the legs higher and maintain the balance of the body on the abdominal area and look up. Hold the pose for a few lights breath; come down by leaning forward and slowly releasing the legs.
1. Start in a prone position with the elbows on the floor, and bend both knees. Keep the left elbow on the floor while the right arm rotates outward and the hand reaches back to hold the right big toe.
2. Lean forwards slightly so the left arm can rotate outwards and reach back to hold the left big toe.
3. Keep a good grip on the big toes and bend the elbows to bring the feet closer to the back.
4. Raise the elbows sideways to squeeze the shoulders and deepen the backward bend.
Use the strength of the legs to pull and straighten the arms. Keep the gaze up and keep the body weight centred.
There are many ways an asana can be performed or interpreted depending on each practitioner, and classic Hatha Yoga text suggests that there are over 8 Million poses.
Below is an advanced variation of Urdhva Dhanurasana.
Feet towards the head variation
From Step 4 above, keep the elbows bent. Extend the neck to arch deeper and pull the feet towards the top of the head. The elbows squeeze lightly in front of the face.
The below modifications are available to different practitioners.
For those with limited external shoulder rotation
Using a yoga strap is helpful in ensuring that the body is not overstretched – this extend the distance between the leg and the torso, and requires less shoulder rotation. Wrap a strap around the feet and hold on to the strap with both hands, and come into the pose. In this practice, focus on the backward bend and raising the legs off the floor more than the full rotation of the shoulders.
For those challenged by balance
Following the steps, practice the pose with one side only. Keep the opposite leg extended with the toes tucked and knee off the mat for support, while the opposite elbow is bent and supports the lifting of the torso.
Neutralizing poses are important for long-term injury prevention; it allows the body to return to its neutral position. Be aware of pressure alert points and listen to your body – do neutralizing movements after slowly coming out of the pose.
Marjaryasana / Cat Pose
Come to the knees and hands with the back neutral, hands directly below the shoulders and knees directly under the hips. The hands are flat and fingers are pointing forwards. Inhale and on exhale, round the back and push the chest in and the chin down, creating a nice hunch on the back. Hold the pose for a few breaths and slowly release.
Come down to the floor on the hands and knees. Separate the knees and bring the feet together. Bring the left hand to the right side, directly under the shoulder and in line with the right knee. Extend the right arm upwards and then back, straight from the shoulder joint. Keep the chest lifted and extending. Hold the pose with a few light breaths. To twist on the opposite side, bring the right hand to the left, in line with the left knee and repeat the twist.
From a prone position, raise the left knee sideways with the inner part of the leg on the floor. The right leg is extended with the toes tucked. Press the hands on the floor and lift the chest. Twist to the right and bring the left shoulder to the floor, with the neck active and head lifted. Bring the palms together and bend the elbows, the palms in line with the chest. Hold the pose for a few light breaths and release. Repeat the pose on the opposite side, raising the right leg and twisting to the left.
The below counter poses will relieve any tension created in the shoulders and torso.
Balasana / Child’s Pose
From Vajrasana, separate the knees and bring the body into a forward bend, extending the arms in front. As gravity works, let the chest and forehead or chin rest on the floor and the whole body relaxing into the pose. Stay for few breaths and release the pose.
Seated Shoulder Stretch
Sit with the knees bent and place the hands behind, about a foot away from the hips. The fingers are pointing forward. Inhale and on exhale, pull the chest in and bend the elbows to round the back, aiming to bring the lower back to the floor. Hold the stretch for a few breaths then come up slowly. Come in and out of the pose a few times, trying to lower down the back even more after each time.
Sit cross-legged on the floor. Bring the left arm across the chest to the right, while the right arm locks the left arm in place. Inhale and on exhale, the right arm presses the left towards the right to stretch the shoulder. Hold the position for a few regular breaths and release. Repeat the stretch on the right arm.
Seated Chest Opening
Sit in Vajrasana with the back straight. Rotate the shoulders outwards and interlock the fingers behind the hips. Inhale and on exhale, push the shoulders away from the ears, then outstretch and straighten the arms. Push the chest out and lift the chin. Stay for a few light breaths and release the pose. Repeat for two more times.
By targeting the Manipuraha chakra in this pose, awareness is brought to the middle part of the body, making our digestive system more active. As the front of the torso is extended and the chest is open, the respiratory system is also awakened. Urdhva Dhanurasana is an effective pose to address respiratory, digestive and some reproductive conditions. Aside from the physical benefits, this pose can also improve body balance, over-all strength and more importantly, focus. By being in a pose that requires us to balance, we are led into centering our attention, thus improving focus. When practicing any asana, take the opportunity to meditate by simply keeping silent and listening to the breath. As always in asana practices, consult with an experienced teacher when trying intermediate poses.