Posted by: eveyoga | December 28, 2011

Upside-Down Bow – Arcing the Spine in Urdhva Dhanurasana

Symmetry in action, Urdhva Dhanurasana is a challenging pose for most yogis. If we could only get the backbend arc to be even from the top of the spine to the tip, then the experience would be pleasurable and gratifying. Anything less, we feel heavy, pinched and sometimes defeated.

Like many adults, by the time I came to do yoga, it had been many years since I’d done backbends. The first ones I attempted in a yoga class made me feel exhilarated. My teacher was a hard task master. We students did 25 Urdhva Dhanurasanas, followed by 10 “easies”. Those are when you push up into a backbend, come down half way, then push up again, times 10. Picture doing 10 quick push-ups as though you were upside-down and inside-out. It was exciting but ultimately exhausting.

Here’s a beautiful photo that Carole Baillargeon took of me about 20 years ago:

Eve 1991

It took me decades to realise that I didn’t have to do a practice that included 25 Urdhva Dhanuasanas, 10 easies, 25 drop-backs from Tadasana, and 25 from headstand. You would think I’d have learned more quickly as I’d often have sciatica flare-ups, no doubt exacerbated by forceful practice. Call me lazy, if you will, but these days three thoughtful Urdhva Dhanurasanas, holding for a while to achieve that optimum even arcing of the spine – with certain muscles turned on and others turned off – that’s enough. I feel good afterwards and energised.

Here’s me venturing into backbend territory again exactly one year after my double hip replacement surgery.

Eve 2011

If you’re a beginner, start small – maybe the little bridge Setubandha, sometimes called dwi pada pitham. Be sure to build up your arm and core strength so that when you’re ready to do upside-down bow pose your arrow will hit the mark.

Setu Bandhasana

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Responses

  1. Oh this one gets me every time! Which is why I’ve been dropping back onto the couch. What are the blocks you use in the photo for? Which muscles do you turn on and which do you turn off?

    • I remember you saying that backbends gave you curry, Luna, so these are good questions.

      In the pictured backbend, I’ve used the blocks for supporting my wrists because I have a cyst in the left one that limits how much pressure it can tolerate. It’s getting better slowly. The blocks are good for stiff shoulders, too.

      As for the muscles to turn on in backbends, Gluteus Medius will lift the sides of your hips up. Hamstrings will lift your thighs and pubis up. Use your middle buttocks but release your groins, top thighs, and muscles around your coccyx.

      There’s so much to consider. With all the best awareness of your lower body, you’ll still jam up your lumbar unless you open your chest well. So, it makes sense to do some preparatory chest openers before starting deep backbends, i.e., lying back over a bolster roll or chair seat.

      Hope this is helpful.

      • Such great tips Eve! Many thanks!


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