Upward Bow Pose is an advanced yoga pose that stretches and opens the entire body. It is sometimes considered the "peak" backbend, so it is often practiced toward the end of class when the body is warm and open. The Sanskrit name for this pose, "Urdhva Dhanurasana" (OORD-vuh DAHN-yoor-AHS-uh-nuh), comes from three words:
- "Urdhva" — meaning "upward"
- "Dhanu" — meaning "bow"
- "Asana" — meaning "pose"
Upward Bow Pose can be a challenging pose to attain with correct alignment, so be careful that you aren't pushing your body beyond its current level of flexibility and strength. Injuring yourself to achieve a deeper backbend is not the goal of yoga! Be sure to incorporate plenty of back-bending warm-up poses into your practice before attempting Upward Bow Pose. A few good ones are Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), Camel Pose (Ustrasana), and Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana).
This pose is also sometimes referred to as "Wheel Pose" ("Chakrasana" in Sanskrit), but is not to be confused with the dynamic, somersaulting pose also called "Chakrasana," or "Wheel Pose."
Benefits of Upward Bow Pose
This pose stretches the spine, shoulders, chest, upper back, and thighs. It also strengthens the arms, wrists, spine, legs, and abdomen. The deep back-bending aspect of this pose opens the lungs, which makes it therapeutic for asthma. Additionally, this pose stimulates the thyroid and pituitary glands, increasing energy and providing relief from mild depression.
In stages, the impossible becomes possible.
As a major "heart-opening" yoga pose, Upward Bow stimulates the fourth and fifth chakras (energetic centers), located at the heart and throat centers, respectively. Many practitioners keep the heart and throat centers closed off and protected, but opening these chakras can increase emotional growth, confidence, and self-esteem. As with other heart-opening poses, such as Camel Pose (Ustrasana), this pose can sometimes make the practitioner feel more emotionally stimulated than other poses. It is important to stay aware of your feelings when practicing Upward Bow; being afraid of your emotions can cause the body to stiffen, which can lead to injury.
Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing high or low blood pressure, headaches, diarrhea, or heart problems. Also avoid this pose if you have a back injury or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Upward Bow requires a great deal of strength and flexibility to be performed correctly. It is very easy to injure yourself if you attempt to move into it too soon. If you do not yet have the strength or flexibility to do the pose in correct alignment, practice Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), Camel Pose (Ustrasana), or a modified version of Upward Bow with props (see Modifications & Variations, below) until you can support your full bodyweight correctly.
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 back with your arms at your sides. Bend your knees, keeping your feet parallel and aligned with your hips. Draw your heels close to the edges of your buttocks.
- Reach your arms up overhead, and then bend your elbows so that you can place your palms on the floor at either side of your head. Your fingertips should rest beneath your shoulders. Keep your forearms parallel as you extend your fingers toward your heels. Reach your elbows directly up toward the ceiling.
- Inhale as you press your feet firmly into the floor and lift your hips upward toward the ceiling. Contract your buttocks, thigh, and abdominal muscles to support your lower back.
- Keep your feet and legs parallel. Press through the palms of your hands and lift your shoulders off the mat.
- Realign your arms to make sure they remain parallel — do not let your elbows splay to the sides. Hold for a few breaths.
- On an exhalation, straighten your arms and lift your head completely off the floor. Press the weight of your hands equally through your index fingers. Draw your chest toward the wall closest to your head.
- Do not rest your bodyweight on your head. Do not crunch your neck. As you gain strength and flexibility, you will be able to lift your head off the mat!
- Lift your chest even more toward the wall behind you. Straighten your arms and legs even more. Turn your thighs slightly inward. Broaden your shoulder blades across your back. Let your head hang. Gaze at the floor between your hands.
- Hold for up to 20 breaths. Release the pose by first bringing the crown of your head to the mat, and then your whole body. Rest on your back with your knees bent and dropped together.
Modifications & Variations
Upward Bow Pose will deeply stretch and strengthen the entire body, but it's important to learn how to do it correctly to avoid injury and strain. Be careful never to force your body into the pose. Instead, take it slowly and back off if you feel any pinching or jarring pain. Practice a modified version of the pose until you have gained the flexibility and strength you need to safely go deeper. Try these simple changes to modify the pose as needed:
- Those newer to the pose or less flexible will benefit from a higher hand placement. Set two yoga blocks against a wall, shoulder-width apart. Then, practice the pose with one hand on each block. The extra height will help the body stay in correct alignment.
- It is common for the knees and feet to splay open in the pose. This compresses the low back. To avoid this, wrap and secure a yoga strap around your thighs to keep the thighs parallel to each other. Then, place a yoga block between your feet. Press the inner edges of your feet against the block as you lift into the pose.
- To deepen the backbend, walk your feet a little closer to your hands.
- For a greater challenge, lift one leg. Draw your lifted knee to your torso, then extend your foot up toward the ceiling. Repeat on the other side.
- Advanced practitioners can perform a drop-back by coming into the pose from a standing position. They can also come directly into a standing position from the backbend. Do not attempt this if you are new to the pose!
Upward Bow Pose is a challenging posture to perform properly. It's important to make sure you're doing it with correct alignment; otherwise, it's very easy to injure yourself! Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose and you'll be on your way to opening your whole body with ease:
- Do not attempt to learn Upward Bow on your own. Instead, learn the pose from a qualified and knowledgeable instructor who can provide you with guidance on the correct alignment before you try the pose solo.
- Keep your elbows and knees hugging toward the center line of your body.
- Keep your feet parallel.
- If your arms or shoulders start to feel fatigued, you will lose the integrity of the pose. Ease up for a bit and practice again when you have more strength.
- As with all backbends, it's important to create length between your vertebrae. Imagine your spine lifting and lengthening, instead of simply folding backwards.
- Give your ego a rest! Attempting to muscle your way into the pose simply to achieve a deeper backbend can quickly lead to injury (even if it's just a bruised ego). Upward Bow requires inner strength and flexibility as much as pure, physical prowess.
Open Your Heart to Yoga
Upward Bow can be an energizing, uplifting, and emotionally satisfying yoga posture, but it can take a significant amount of practice — perhaps years — to accomplish the full expression of the pose. Practicing Upward Bow is a reminder of the true heart of yoga. It takes patience and awareness to stay focused on the present moment and to accept your current circumstances, instead of always wanting to be somewhere else. Letting go of the need for outcomes will help you learn the pose slowly, yet fully. In that lesson, you will learn to confront challenges with ease and power, both on and off the mat.