When you need more energy, this pose can help stimulate your adrenals and make your body feel lighter. Also known as Urdhva Dhanurasana, this pose also increases your capacity to endure stress.
(Pronounced as "OORD-vah dahn-yoor-AHS-anna ")
The Sanskrit term urdhva means "upward," and dhanu means "bow." Here you push up and arch your back fully into the shape of an archer's bow.
Lie with your back against your yoga mat. Bend your elbows, raising your arms up over your head to tuck your palms under your shoulders and press the palms into the mat. Spread your fingers and make sure the hands are no more than shoulder-width apart. Your fingers should point in the direction of the feet. Bend your knees and place the soles of the feet onto the floor. Slide your heels as close to your buttocks as possible. Your feet should be no more than hip-width apart from each other.
On an exhalation, tuck your tailbone in. Then push your heels and hands hard into the floor to lift up your torso and place the crown of your head on the floor. Tuck your shoulder blades into your back and keep your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Take two breaths.
On your next exhalation, push harder with your heels and hands to lift your pelvis up as high as you can while arching your back. Now your head will come off of the floor with your weight entirely on your hands and feet. Open your armpits and stretch your shoulders to straighten your arms. Push your tailbone as high up into your pelvis as you can.
Pull the thigh muscles up and let the knees turn in slightly toward each other. Focus on pushing down through your index fingers. Allow your head to hang down naturally without straining your neck.
Hold this final position for as long as you can. In the beginning, you may only be able to stay here for a few seconds. As you practice this pose more over time, you will eventually be able to hold it for up to a minute. Come out of the pose on an exhalation while you bend the knees and elbows to slowly lower yourself back down.
If you have difficulty raising the pelvis fully, then practice the pose with your feet on top of a pair blocks placed at hip-width apart. This added height will help you arch your full back to come into the pose.
If you have trouble straightening your arms and opening your shoulders fully, then place a pair of blocks at shoulder-width apart underneath your hands. Practicing the pose this way will help you gradually open your shoulders more.
Whether you support the feet or the hands with blocks, make sure that you brace the blocks against a wall so that they don't move under your weight. Place your mat under the blocks to help secure them as well.
After you have come into the full pose, then shift your weight onto the balls of your feet and exhale while lifting your heels up from the floor. Pull your thigh muscles up and push up your lower spine until you have raised your abdomen up as high as possible. Arch your back more by shifting your weight slowly more onto your hands, opening the chest more. Then shift back to put more weight onto your feet, bringing the knees slightly forward. Shift back and forth slowly to find your center and improve the overall arch of your torso and back.
When you are confident in this pose, then you can try the more challenging Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana (prefix pronounced "ACHE-ah POD-ah"). Eka means "one," and pada means "foot or leg." This variation is therefore the One-Legged Upward Bow Pose.
First, come into the full Urdhva Dhanurasana as normal. Let out a long exhalation as you shift your weight onto your left foot and raise your right leg up off of the floor, pointing the right leg up so that it makes about a 45 degree angle with the ground. Straighten the leg. Hold it up for 10 seconds or so before lowering the leg back down to put your right foot on the floor again. Now lift the left leg up the same way and hold it up for the same duration.
Practice going deeper into the pose by performing it with a wall behind you and a partner to guide you. Stand with the wall approximately three feet behind you. Put your hands on the backs of your hips so that your thumbs press into your sacrum and tailbone area. Inhale as you lift your head up to look at the ceiling.
Then let your head lead the movement of raising your sternum and arching your entire torso up so that gradually your head lowers to look at the wall behind you. Push your tailbone firmly into your back and lean your pelvis forward as you perform this movement.
When you start to reach your maximum bend, then raise your hands over your head to press the palms against the wall. Your partner should now place their hands under the bottom of your shoulder blades to help you continue arching your back as you walk your hands down the wall as far as you can. Then ask your partner to help pull your back up when you walk your hands back up the wall to come out of the pose.
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