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?