Dhanurasana, or bow pose, is a yoga asana commonly used in hatha yoga. In the basic position, the body takes the form of a drawn bow, providing excellent flexibility and strength training for the back and upper legs. Dhanurasana can take some time to perfect, as it requires good focus and flexibility. It is a great pose for those trying to increase strength and limberness throughout the back, though people with back injuries should take care to increase the extension of the pose slowly.
To begin dhanurasana, the yogi lies face-down on a mat. Arms are held at the sides, with palms facing up toward the sky. Bending both legs, the feet are kicked up toward the buttocks, and hands lift up to grab the ankles. From this point, it is important to lean forward slightly, so that weight is placed over the belly. If weight is allowed to sink into the pelvis, the position can become uncomfortable and will grind the hip bones into the ground, which may hurt.
The next step in bow pose will depend on the flexibility of the practitioner. Slowly, the yogi allows the arms and legs to pull against one another, lifting both the chest and the thighs off the ground. Gaze should be lifted upward, but care must be taken not to strain the neck. In an advanced position, the practitioner continues lifting until only the abdomen rests on the ground, while ankles and hands meet high in the air above the buttocks. Newer yogis may want to lift only a few inches of the ground; the position should be comfortable enough to hold for five to ten breath cycles.
Throughout dhanurasana it is important to breathe consistently. In the extended position, it may be easiest to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. It is also important to keep a slight bend to the elbows to avoid hyper-extension, and to not allow the shoulders to rise up to the ears. Keeping shoulder blades extended downward and pressed together will help align the arms correctly.
One alternate version of dhanurasana is known as wheel or upward bow. In this pose, the yogi starts by lying on his or her back with knees bent and feet pulled close to the buttocks. Elbows are bent so that hands lay next to the ears, with fingers pointing towards the feet. On an exhale, the practitioner pushes against the hands and feet to lift the pelvis upward, straightening the legs and arms along the way. Advanced practitioners may be able to straighten arms completely, but this can take months of training to achieve.