Man practicing yoga dhanurasana with bolster

Peak Yoga Pose: A Sequence for Diving Deeper into Dhanurasana

By: 
Allison Schleck ERYT-500, RPYT

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) is the compound definition of grace and strength. This yoga backbend engages the back of the body concentrically while lengthening the front of the body. Though the front body is expanding, as it is held in the lengthened position, you will find that the front body is working hard to resist gravity in this lengthened state. Preparing the body for this intricate pose will help you to understand the actions of the pose in simpler movements before putting them all together in this deep backbend.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)     Setu Bandha, Bridge pose, Prep pose Dhanurasana, beginner's yoga, yoga practice tips

Bridge Pose embodies many traits similar to Dhanurasana but differs in its relationship to gravity.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms by your sides. 

  2. Press your feet down into the floor and lift your hips up. 

  3. Isometrically pull your heels toward your head and your arms toward each other. 

  4. Stay for five breaths, come down to rest and repeat three to five times. 

Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)         Trikonasana, Triangle pose, Strengthening pose, beginner's yoga, preparatory standing pose, prep for Dhanurasana

Trikonasana prepares the legs, hips, and spine for Dhanurasana.

  1. Begin by standing with your feet spread wide apart. Turn your right leg to the right toward the front edge of your mat so that the foot, knee, and center of the thigh are aligned with each other. Turn your left foot, ankle, shin, knee, thigh, and hip in a bit toward the front of your mat.

  2. Keeping your legs straight, tilt your pelvis to the right, extending out to the right through your torso. Place your right hand on a chair, block or floor. Keep both sides of the torso long.

  3. Reach your left arm up toward the sky.

  4. Rotate your ribcage so that it faces forward, keeping both sides of your torso as long as possible.

  5. Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths then lift your torso upright and move to the other side.

Anjaneyasana (Lunge Pose)         Anjaneyasana, low lunge, lunge with knee support, lunge to prepare for backbending, Dhanurasana prep

Anjaneyasana prepares the front body for Dhanurasana with a particular focus on lengthening the hip flexors. 

  1. From Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose), take a large step back with your right leg and lower your right knee to the floor behind your hip.   (shown with a blanket to protect the knee)

  2. Press your right foot firmly down into the floor. Engage your right buttock and lift the torso upright. Focus on lifting your back ribs away from your hips. 

  3. Reach your arms overhead.

  4. You can add isometric work here by pulling the back thigh toward the front of your mat and pulling your front heel toward the back of your mat to illuminate the work of the front body.

  5. Stay here for a few breaths and then step back into Uttanasana. Then step your left leg back and repeat.  

  6. Repeat two to three times and move into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) between each set.

Salabhasana (Locust Pose)        Salabhasana, Locust Pose, spine lengthening pose, core strengthening pose, Dhanurasana prep pose

Salabhasana is the prelude position to Dhanurasana. There are many variations that you can play with to prepare for Dhanurasana, such as bending one or both knees, working the upper arms by pressing into a block between the hands or pressing the arms into a strap looped around the elbows. Salabhasana can be a substitute for Dhanurasana if Dhanurasana is too intense at that particular moment for your student.

  1. Lie prone on the floor with your arms reaching down by your sides and your feet reaching toward the back of the room. 

  2. Press your hips down and elevate the rest of your body—head, chest, arms, and legs. (variation is shown above)

  3. Notice the contraction of the back body that initially lifts you away from the floor. Do you feel the whole back body working or just parts of it? Try to spread the contraction of the back body to all parts that are facing the ceiling.

  4. Straighten your legs and lift from your thighs. There is a kinship here to Anjaneyasana.

  5. Now turn your focus to your arms, keeping your elbows straight and lifting your upper arm bones into extension. This will be very important as you make your way into Dhanurasana.

  6. Practice 2 to 3 times, and then move into Downward Facing Dog Pose for spinal traction.

 Ardha Dhanurasana (Half Bow Pose)      Ardha Dhanurasana, half bow pose, pose variations, half bow with props, prep pose for full Dhanurasana

Ardha Dhanurasana takes you one step closer to full Dhanurasana. It is also another suitable option that is more intense than Salabhasana but less demanding than Dhanurasana. Practicing Ardha Dhanurasana gives you the feel of Dhanurasana before coming into the symmetrical form of Dhanurasana.

  1. After Salabhasana, return to the prone position and prop yourself up onto your forearms for Salamba Bhujangasana (Sphinx Pose). 

  2. Bend your right knee and reach back with your right hand to grab ahold of your foot. Hold onto the outer ankle and reach the fingers around to hold the inner ankle as well. (variation is shown with bolster)

  3. Press your foot back into your hand then lift the thigh (or imagine lifting it) off the floor.

  4. Take 3 to 5 breaths and then release the foot, relax your torso down onto the floor, splay your elbows out and release your forehead onto the backs of your hands. Rest and then practice the other side. 

  5. Traction out the spine with Downward Facing Dog Pose and add some elements of twisting and side bending as you pedal your feet.

Dhanurasana  (Bow Pose)  Dhanurasana, Bow Pose, back bending, safe back bending, backbends with props

  1. Take the prone position once again, and this time bend both knees. Squeeze your heels toward your buttocks as much as you can without using your hands or lifting your hips. Press your hips down.

  2. Extend your arms behind you and see if your feet are there. If they are, grab them and if not, then make the movements necessary to find your feet without exceeding your edge. If you can’t reach your feet, return to Ardha Dhanurasana and Salabhasana.

  3. Press your feet into your hands to lift your chest.  (variation above is shown with bolster)

  4. Lift from your thighs and your sternum, but keep your head in a neutral position; lengthen your neck so that you don’t throw your head back.

  5. Breathe into the sides and back.

  6. To exit, lower your body back to the floor, releasing your hands from your ankles.

  7. Rest in the prone position for a few breaths with your forehead resting on your hands, and practice again.     Ananda Balasana, Happy Baby pose, winding down your practice pose, rest and restore pose, winding down from peak pose

After finishing your practice of Dhanurasana, come to lying on your back, allowing your spine to come to a neutral position. Return to the initial Bridge Pose and place a block under your sacrum, in its medium or low orientation, and rest. Round out the rest of your practice with some gentle, supine twists such as Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Belly Pose), Supta Ardha Padmasana (Reclining Half Lotus Pose) and Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose) (shown above) before restoring entirely in Savasana.

More yoga practice tips from Allison Schleck and YogaUOnline - Three Unique Ways To Prop Revolved Triangle Pose.

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Allison Schleck, writer, Yoga teacher, contributorAllison Schleck, E-RYT 500, RPYT is a vinyasa-based yoga teacher, fascinated by the intricate relationship between the mind and body. She offers a range of alignment-focused classes touching on anatomy, philosophy, and creative propping with a mindful approach.  In addition to teaching group classes and managing the Yoga Culture studio in Danbury, CT, she also teaches at Open Door Family Medical Center in Westchester, NY empowering mothers-to-be with prenatal yoga classes and childbirth education. You can find her @allisonschleck on Instagram and www.allisonrayjeraci.com.

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