Bow Pose is an intermediate yoga backbend that deeply opens the chest and the front of the body. If you've ever spent a day hunched over a computer, or if you practice sports that include a forward-reaching motion — such as swimming, cycling, or golfing — you know how good it feels to stretch your arms and lift your chest. Bending backward is a natural way to regain balance after hunching forward!
Named after an archer's bow, the Sanskrit term for Bow Pose — "Dhanurasana" (DAHN-yoor-AHS-uh-nuh) — comes from two words:
- "Dhanu" — meaning "bow"
- "Asana" — meaning "pose"
Bow Pose is sometimes the "peak" back-bending pose in intermediate yoga classes, but it is also used as preparation for deeper backbends, such as Upward Bow (Wheel Pose) (Urdhva Dhanurasana).
Benefits of Bow Pose
Bow Pose stretches the entire front of the body, while simultaneously strengthening every muscle in the back. This improves posture and spinal flexibility. Additionally, the pose helps to open the chest, abdomen, quadriceps, ankles, groins, hip flexors, and throat.
The body's pressure on the abdomen positively stimulates the organs of digestion and reproduction, which helps to relieve constipation and menstrual discomfort. In addition, the deep chest stretch opens the lungs, helping to relieve respiratory ailments. Energizing and invigorating the body, mind, and spirit, Bow Pose also helps to relieve fatigue, stress, and anxiety.
The bow kept taut will quickly break; kept loosely strung, it will serve you when you need it.
Phaedrus, 370 BCE
Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing high or low blood pressure, migraines, or insomnia. Also avoid this pose if you are pregnant, or if you have a low-back or neck injury.
Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin by lying flat on your stomach with your chin on the mat and your hands resting at your sides.
- On an exhalation, bend your knees. Bring your heels as close as you can to your buttocks, keeping your knees hip-distance apart.
- Reach back with both hands and hold onto your outer ankles.
- On an inhalation, lift your heels up toward the ceiling, drawing your thighs up and off the mat. Your head, chest, and upper torso will also lift off the mat. Draw your tailbone down firmly into the floor, while you simultaneously lift your heels and thighs even higher. Lift your chest and press your shoulder blades firmly into your upper back. Draw your shoulders away from your ears.
- Gaze forward and breathe softly. Your breath will become shallow, but do not hold your breath.
- Hold for up to 30 seconds.
- To release, exhale and gently lower your thighs to the mat. Slowly release your legs and feet to the floor. Place your right ear on the mat and relax your arms at your sides for a few breaths. Repeat the pose for the same amount of time, then rest with your left ear on the mat.
Modifications & Variations
Bow Pose can be a great way to regain balance and strength after a day (or lifetime) of slouching forward. Be sure to modify the pose as needed, and ease up if you feel any pinching or jarring pain in your back or neck. Here are a few simple modifications that will lighten or deepen the pose for you:
- If you can't hold onto your ankles, use a yoga strap. Wrap the strap around the front of your ankles before coming into the pose. Hold onto the strap when you are in the pose with your arms fully extended.
- For a greater challenge, practice the pose with your thighs, calves, and inner feet pressing together.
- For an even deeper backbend for advanced students, take hold of the opposite ankles.
If you do not yet have the flexibility to perform Bow Pose, try Half Bow (called "Ardha Dhanurasana" in Sanskrit):
- Lie on your stomach with your chin on the mat. Reach both arms forward.
- Then, bend your right knee and extend your right arm behind you, taking hold of your right ankle. Inhaling, lift your right heel up toward the ceiling; this will lift your upper torso and head off the mat. Keep your left hand resting on the mat, or lift it up if you can.
- Hold for a few breaths, then release and relax. Repeat for the same amount of time on the left side.
For more variety, practice Side Bow (called "Parsva Dhanurasana" in Sanskrit). Side Bow provides a deep massage to the abdominal organs:
- Perform steps 1-4, as listed above in the Instructions.
- Exhaling, bring your right shoulder to the floor as you pull your left foot toward the right. Roll over until you are lying on your right side.
- Hold for up to 30 seconds. Then, exhaling, roll to your belly again, and then over to the left. Stay there for the same amount of time. Then, come back onto your belly and release the pose.
Bow Pose will energize and stretch the whole body when practiced correctly. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Place a firm blanket beneath your hip bones for extra padding, if needed.
- Hold onto your ankles, not the tops of your feet. This will help to prevent ankle, knee, and other leg injuries.
- Keep your knees hip-width or closer together for the duration of the pose. Do not let your knees splay wider than your hips; doing so can compress and compromise your low back.
- Evenly distribute the backbend across your upper, middle, and lower back.
- Keep breathing throughout the pose. Do not hold your breath.
Bow Pose can be an uplifting way to gain flexibility and strength! Lengthening your spine and opening your chest will energize and invigorate your whole body, while relieving stress and anxiety. Add a few rounds of Bow Pose to your regular practice when your body is warm after practicing standing poses. Then follow it with a simple forward fold and final relaxation — try Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana) and Corpse Pose (Savasana) — for a quick routine that will rejuvenate your day!