Asana of the Week: Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana

This week's asana is Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana, or One-legged Upward Bow Pose. I've been taking some backbends with my coffee in mornings this past week and I'm pretty sure it's getting me through a long weekend of yoga teacher training. Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana is an opening yet empowering asymmetrical backbend. We generally associate backbends with feelings of vulnerability and maybe even volatility of emotion, but I find that the extended leg changes the energy of this backbend. It adds a sense of power among chaos as the body engages strongly and instinctively to accommodate the sudden added weight of the lifted leg.

Wait to try this pose until you can remain comfortable in Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow, or Wheel Pose) for at least ten steady breaths. Openness balanced with stability across the shoulders, and flexibility in the front body and thoracic spine are important here. Begin from Urdhva Dhanurasana by simply lifting one foot a few inches from the floor. If that feels okay, your shoulderblades remain strong on the back and the breath is steady, try drawing the knee up the centerline of the body toward the chest. If you're still feeling strong, push through the ball of the foot and point that foot to the sky. Bring the extended leg as vertical as possible, driving the grounded foot firmly down into the earth, being mindful of the shoulderblades drawing together and down the back as if to lift and support the rib cage. Keep the heads of the arm bones tightly sucked into the shoulder sockets and try to distribute the bend evenly along the length of the spine, being especially aware of sensation in the lower back as you press the hips to the sky.

I like to warm up to any version of Urdhva Dhanurasana with some shoulder openers. Gomukhasana (face-of-light or cow face pose) is an especially good preparatory stretch for the shoulders before attempting any big backbends. It's a good idea to prepare for eka pada urdhva dhanurasana with at least five breaths in Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose) and one regular ol' Urdhva Dhanurasana before attempting any asymmetrical versions, then take another plain old UD after playing with the one-legged version. And always be sure to practice the asymmetrical versions on both sides.

The next step is lifting one hand to the thigh in a one-armed Urdhva Dhanurasana, then both the right leg AND the right hand, for example, to balance on the left foot and left hand. Sounds hard? Well, it looks hard, but I can't say for sure because I've never tried it. BKS Iyengar in his classic Light on Yoga rates the full pose a "12" on a scale of difficulty from 1 to 60.

Respectfully, I must cast a skeptical eye toward this scale of his. Bodies are wildly different from person to person. For example, Iyengar rates Hanumanasana a "32," a pose which is considerably more accessible to me, perhaps because of my gender. There are countless factors that influence the accessibility of the asanas for every individual, and I'm wary of any set scale of difficulty because of these inherent differences. I'm not going anywhere with this, really. I just wonder what his intention was in rating the poses this way, seems almost inhibiting. Iyengar people: any thoughts on this?


  1. I think BKS Iyengar was a very young man when he wrote Light on Yoga. :-)

  2. Bridge pose is a yoga staple. It is a great concentration improver and yoga guru Leeann Carey says it also a great stretch for the shoulders and chest. She has a free yoga video on bridge pose that I thought your readers might like: http://www.planetyoga.com/free-yoga-video-bridge-pose/

  3. I heard the Bridge pose is very helpful to the female reproductive system, inc. period problems. How would that be? Do you think it is because it is tonifying to the muladhara chakra, which governs that area? (Jason in New Zealand)

  4. Hi Jason -

    Bridge, Upward Bow, and other backbends can help to alleviate menstrual cramps because they stretch the front of the body, especially the lower abdominals and psoas muscles. Deep breathing in these postures massages the digestive and reproductive organs against the muscles pulled tight across the lower torso as the pelvis is pressed upward.

  5. I can do Urdhwa Dhanurasana as well as slowly I am getting a grip of this version but Hanumanasana is still a distant dream.

  6. I am now really enjoying doing this. Without practicing Urdhva Dhanurasan , Ek Pada UD & Viparita, I feel my practice is incomplete. You are a great teacher Megan.

    CA. Abhishek Sanyal