Updated: Nov 8, 2020
Hey Readers! Glad you are here! Bow pose, aka "Dhanurasana" in Sanskrit ("Don-YOUR-as-uh-nuh"), is one of my favorite yoga poses. Bow pose is a prone (i.e. belly down), symmetrical (i.e. left and right sides are doing the same thing), back-bending pose. Generally in bow pose, your hips are in extension, with slight adduction and internal rotation. Your spine is in extension, ideally in the thoracic spine, and your shoulders are in extension (i.e. reaching behind you). The ankle joint is typically in plantar flexion (i.e. pointed toes), but some people prefer putting the ankles in dorsiflexion (i.e. toes drawing towards the shin). I personally prefer my ankles in plantar flexion, but that's just me! Your abdominals should be engaged somewhat to help prevent overextension in your lumbar spine (i.e. low back).
Bow pose does so many wonderful things for the body and the mind. Here are six reasons why I love this pose so much.
1. Bow pose is a posture that stretches much of the front (or anterior) body, while strengthening much of the back (or posterior) body. This is great for our modern society, as we tend to spend a lot of time hunched over a phone, tablet, computer, or steering wheel. When we are hunched over (i.e. in spinal flexion), we actually lengthen the muscles of the back body and shorten the muscles of the front body. This becomes a problem when we habitually end up in these hunched-over positions because it can lead to pattern overload on the muscles, bones, and joints. Pattern overload can ultimately let to musculoskeletal injury and/or pain. Thus, bow pose is a great counterpose to our hunched-over movement patterns.
2. Bow pose requires, and helps to build, strong gluteal and hamstring muscles, while stretching the quadricep muscles and hip flexors. Our gluteal muscles are prone to decreased neural drive (i.e. neural input) since we sit so much in our current culture (but that is a topic for a future blog post - stay tuned). Since bow pose engages the glute muscles to extend the hips, it helps to reduce the effects of chronic siting. Bow pose also strengthens the hamstring and back muscles. Conversely, bow pose helps to stretch, or open, the quadricep muscles and hip flexors. Hip flexors have a tendency to become shortened and overactive with the chronic sitting seen in our culture. Thus, stretching the hip flexors is a good counter action to the hip flexion of sitting. Countering the forces and loads placed on the body helps to keep the muscles balanced on either side of a joint, thereby limiting, or preventing, injury and/or pain in the musculoskeletal system.
3. Bow pose requires abdominal engagement. While bow pose stretches much of the front body, it does require some engagement from the abdominal muscles on the front body to help keep the spine and back safe. In bow pose, your back muscles concentrically contract (i.e. accelerate to produce force) to extend your spine. Your abdominal muscles, on the other hand, should eccentrically contract (i.e. decelerate the force produced by the back muscles) in order to prevent too much compression in your low back. Thus, bow pose can be a good core workout.
4. Bow pose helps with breath flow. Because you are prone (i.e. on your belly) in bow pose, you get immediate tactile feedback about your breath. As you breathe in (which can sometimes be challenging to do in bow pose), you can feel your belly press into the floor beneath you. As you breathe out, you can feel your belly soften against the mat. And the entire cycle of inhalation and exhalation can be felt by your body gently rocking back and forth as your breath moves. This tactile feedback can help to improve your breathing mechanics for belly, or diaphragmatic, breathing. Recall from my previous blog series about belly breathing that belly breathing confers many physiological, psychological, and physical benefits (click here to read more). My breath flows much easier after hanging out in bow pose for a few minutes, likely because of the increased tactile information my belly received while in the posture.
5. Bow pose is wonderful for teaching patience. Bow pose is an excellent pose to teach patience and serenity, especially when things are hard or challenging. In the "full expression" of bow pose, the practitioner typically grabs each foot with the same-side hand, putting the body into a bound position. The complete binding in the pose can feel a little suffocating or cramped to some people. Hanging out in bow pose for a few minutes helps you to find calm and comfort, even when you feel trapped and nervous. Bow pose helps you to learn how to be patient and wait for the release rather than immediately trying to escape the challenge, especially when you stay focused on the movement of your breath in this pose.
6. Bow pose has lots of variations, for every body type and personal preference. There are so many options to make bow pose more accessible, or more challenging, to your body. For instance, you do not have to grab both feet with each hand. Rather, you could simply grab one foot at at time. Or, you could play with bending one, or both, knees without grabbing either foot at all. You can add challenge by trying to get your legs lifted higher and higher off the mat. You could place a block between your inner thighs to give you some feedback for the adduction and internal rotation movements of the hips. You can do bow pose on your side if you cannot be on your belly. Bow pose is also a lot like dancer's pose, so you can take bow pose to your feet, and play around with some balance in dancer's pose-meets bow pose. Bridge pose is also similar to bow pose, so this is another variation you can play with.
Bow pose, Dhanurasana, is one of my favorite yoga poses. I love to get into this pose and hold it for several minutes. I notice that I feel more open (both physically and emotionally), my breath flows easier, and my mood seems more stable after holding bow pose. If you have not tried bow pose before, I recommend that you start easy (e.g. grab only one foot) and work up over time to the more traditional “full expression” of the pose. But, do try to find some time to play with this pose if you can.
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of neuroscience, human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about the best ways to do bow pose for your body, please consult with your physician, personal trainer, physical therapist, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga sessions with me, Jackie, you can book services on my website ("Book Online" from the menu at the top of the page), or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my weekly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT