4.07.2010

Asana of the Week: Dhanurasana

BKS Iyengar says of dhanurasana in Light on Yoga, "the hands are used like a bow-string to pull the head, trunk, and legs up and the posture resembles a bent bow." The Yoga Bible by Christana Brown describes the pose similarly, saying that "in this posture, the arms are like the string of a bow, pulled tight by the strength of the body and legs." However, I like David Swenson's description best. He takes the bow metaphor a step further in his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual by mapping the flow of energy in the body: "The arms are like the string of a bow and the body is the bow itself. The energy being propelled through the spine and up to the crown of the head is the arrow" [emphasis is mine]. Nice.

This is one of those asanas that doesn't show up in my home practice too often, but when it does, it leaves an impression. Dhanurasana is an enormous heart opener and major source of energy and endorphins. I find it especially appropriate that, to release from this asana, one is supposed to literally let go and lie flat on the floor. In that release after Dhanurasana, some pretty heavy shit can come to the surface. Sometimes it's murky, but sometimes it's beautiful and clear.

This is an asana that my neck and shoulder tension has kept me from enjoying for quite some time. Until I came to terms with the fact that a Gomukhasana once in a while wasn't going to do the trick, I pretty much rejected all other shoulder-openers, finding them too painful and bothersome. Eventually, I got tired of all the tension headaches and the lack of mobility in my shoulders, and began working shoulder openers into my daily practice. Asanas like Dhanurasana, Setu Bandhasana, Halasana, and Sarvangasana are accessible to me now.

I've always been taught in classes to never spread the knees any wider than the hips in Dhanurasana. Maybe I'm a literalist, but the message I've gotten from more than one instructor is knees no wider than hip width apart! Swenson, however, allows that one may spread the knees to find a place of comfort: "If it is too intense to keep the legs together then you may open them until you find a comfort zone while keeping the chest and knees away from the floor" (Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual). I'm liking this Swenson guy more and more.

Iyengar says to "lift the head up and pull it as far back as possible," but as you can see in the photo, I'm maintaining some length in the neck, it's something I do in most asanas that call for an upward gaze. I've made a habit of it in order to protect my neck and upper back. Swenson says it's okay: "If you feel tension in your neck then drop your chin toward your chest and that should relieve it" (Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual).

I usually practice Dhanurasana after a few other prone backbends, namely Shalabasana variations and Ardha Bhekasana. I find Shalabasana with the hands clasped behind the back, pulling the chest up and open, is an excellent preparation for Dhanurasana. One issue I have with this pose is deciding where to put my weight, and once having found that place, how to avoid rocking with the breath. Generally, when I first lift up into Dhanurasana, my weight is on my lower abdomen and hip bones. It takes a conscious shift to bring the weight fully onto the soft part of the abdomen where it should be, and while this lessens the bend in the upper back slightly, it brings a great stretch into the front of the knees and quadriceps. Leslie Kaminoff writes in Yoga Anatomy that "it is a common practice to rock back and forth in this pose by pushing the belly into the floor with each inhalation. It is less common (but much more intense) to practice not rocking by directing the inhalation into the already expanded chest region." It is a challenge to direct the breath into the expanded chest, but I prefer the stability and consistent pressure on the abdomen of the non-rocking version of the pose.

What about you, my darling readers: do you rock the bow or not?

11 comments:

  1. This is my nemesis I'm afraid! I have come to the realisation my thighs will never part company from the floor :)

    Also it really hurts my bad shoulder so I have come the realistion that I might need to stop trying (read: forcing)!

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  2. love love love the bow, along with its upward-facing sister. though you're right, the heart openers and even more so for me, the throat openers, leave me feeling more emotional than usual. Whenever I practice more than one wheel, I feel damn near weepy afterwards.

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  3. Rachel - Swenson says that's okay, too! Bow with the thighs kept on the floor is a variation offered in his book, and still a great heart opener... but be kind to yourself, whatever you choose to do.

    Jamie - I'm with you on the throat openers! Very intense.

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  4. This is a lovely pose. I am a particular fan of the varation with the thighs on the floor actually. One teacher I had taught us to come into the pose for 5 breaths, then would grasp our ankles from behind and gently pull until our thighs met the floor again. In that pose your heart and chest are SOOOOOO open!! Glorious. I can almost achieve it myself but it's so much easier with some friendly helping hands. I love to do that adjustment on students who are open to receive it.

    But for a lot of students this pose is far from accessible - for people with very tight shoulders (or knee issues) I also find shalabasana with arms clasped a good one, and you can stand behind them and gently support the shoulders to help them open their chest - also on of my fav adjustments to receive!!

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  5. Such a great post - thank you. I loved having all of the different teachers' guidelines accessible in one post.

    I too prefer not to "rock the bow," and I also prefer to keep some length in the neck. And don't you love how accessible David Swenson is? I feel like he wants everyone to be able to practice yoga, and I love that.

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  6. I heart bow. To warm up I use a couple folded blankets under my pelvis. It is amazing how high I can lift. And then I work it without the blankets. I never used to like props. But, I have a teacher now who has shown me how to appreciate them.

    Great article!

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  7. La Gitane - Those adjustments sound lovely. That's definitely something I miss practicing at home.... some nice warm hands guiding me into the sweet spots.

    MovingMeditation - Thanks for reading! I do love Swenson... such a warm personality in such a stringent discipline. His book is a treasure.

    babs - What exactly do the blankets do for you in this position? Cushion the abdomen and pelvis to allow for more lift? Just curious. I'm not one to incorporate props into my practice, probably because I've never learned how to use them effectively.

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  8. i'm with rachel. i want to love it, but i have such issues with how i "want" to look in this pose. right, like that's how to go deeper in the pose. it can feel lovely, but only if i can forget about what i think i might look like!

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  9. I love this pose. It is challenging, but the effects are so great. I usually rock in this pose, but now after reading your post, I'm going try directing my breath into my chest and see if I can master the "not rocking" version.
    thanks for the ideas!

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  10. Megan, the not rocking version of yours gives a great balance.

    Regards
    CA. Abhishek Sanyal

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  11. To master Urdhva Dhanurasan one needs to master Ardha Bhekeasan, Dhanurasasan and Bhujanagasan as well as the Bridge Pose/Posture.

    Regards
    CA. Abhishek Sanyal

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