Want to learn more about Dhanurasana, aka Bow Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Dhanurasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, myths, modifications and more.
Dhanurasana is a pose that gets me dreaming of the ancient warriors of India. The pose name means Bow Pose, but not bow as in a pretty bow on a gift, but an archer’s bow — as in a bow and arrow. And archers are quite important in Hindu lore.
Shiva was a great archer, and Arjuna, the protagonist of The Bhagavad Gita, was said to have been the greatest archer in the history of India — although some claim Karna to have been the greatest. You can even watch Karna and Arjuna battle it out in this fight scene from B.R. Chopra’s TV series Mahabarat.
Bow Pose also gets me dreaming when I have students come to class who are experienced hot yoga practitioners. Their teardrop-shaped Bow Poses make me dream that one day I will be able to create this shape with my body, a shape that captures the resilience of the longbow, and the dedication and aim it takes to find this shape inside and bring it out.
As you’ll see in my video breakdown below, I am far still a long way away the being able to do the teardrop shape!
Who knows? With practice and patience, maybe one day! But what the teardrop shape has really taught me about Dhanurasana is to use my legs more. Our legs are used to working — we walk around on them all day. Conversely, we don’t back bend all day, so the muscles that help with that tend to be weaker.
If you want to deepen your Dhanurasana today start to use your legs more. Really kick back with your feet, but also start to straighten your legs. This will help you lift your feet up higher and higher, getting your closer to the shape of an archer’s bow.
And I love this simple description of the pose from the Gheranda Samhita, a 17th century text that is one of main historical yoga texts.
Spread the legs like a stick on the ground. Catch hold of the feet with the hands. Bend the body like a bow. Yogis call this Dhanurasana.”– Gheranda Samhita, 2.18
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Dhanurasana Quick Facts
|Meaning||Dhanura means bow (like an archer’s bow and arrow, not a pretty bow on a present).|
Both Shiva and Arjuna were great archers and there are fantastic stories that tell the stories of their skill.
Note: I am only including the scientifically supported benefits of Dhanurasana. There are plenty of claims about other benefits of each pose (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) out there if you want to hunt them down. I feel that that pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community in general, so choose not to give them further airtime.
The main physical benefits of Dhanurasana include:
- Helps increase flexibility in the spine.
- Builds strength in spine extensors (erector spinae).
- Helps open your shoulders, relieving tight shoulders and building strength.
- Strengthens leg muscles.
- Strengthens biceps and triceps.
- Tones core.
- Helps build strength in neck muscles.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
Here are few reasons you may want to avoid Dhanurasana:
- Headaches or migraines may worsen when practicing this pose. Proceed with caution.
- If you have a neck injury or pain in your neck, gaze forward when doing this pose and work to lengthen your neck.
- If you have a back injury or if you have fused vertebrae you may wish to avoid this pose.
- People with stomach ulcers or hiatus hernia may find the abdominal pressure from this pose to be uncomfortable.
Dhanurasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Dhanurasana or Bow Pose
- Lie down on your belly. Stretch your legs straight back behind you.
- Bring your chin, nose, or forehead to your mat.
- Bend your knees. Point your toes up. When you bend your knees your hips might lift away from the ground some. Push your hips down so that your pubic bone stays connected with the ground.
- Reach back with your hands. Hold the tops of your feet or your ankles. Note: Holding your ankles requires more shoulder opening, but it also provides you with a more secure grip. See the Modifications section below for tips on how to hold your feet using props if you can’t reach them with your hands.
- Look forward. Lift your shoulders off the ground but keep your chin, nose, or forehead on the ground.
- Keep your torso low to the ground and pick your knees and thighs up off the ground. Keep your knees stretching straight back, with your inner thighs hugging in. Work to unbend your knees a little.
- Use the power of your legs to kick your feet back into your hands and lift your head and chest off the ground.
- Push down through your lower belly (pubic bone) and pick your feet up higher. Use your legs, and work to straighten your legs up towards the ceiling. Kick back with your feet.
- Look forward, or look up. This is Dhanurasana, or Bow Pose.
- To come out of Dhanurasana, slowly lower your torso and knees, release your hands and bring your legs to the ground.
- Balasana, or Child’s Pose, is a great counter pose to Dhanurasana and helps release compression from your lower back.
Modifications & Variations
If your knees turn out:
- Place a yoga block between your thighs and squeeze the block. This will prevent your knees from going wide by building awareness and strength in your adductors (inner thighs).
- It has the added advantage of giving you more access to the power of your glute max (butt muscle) to extend your hips, which helps increase your back bend.
If holding your feet is difficult:
- Use a yoga strap around the tops of your feet and hold the strap in each hand.
If the front of your hips hurt:
- Place a yoga blanket on your mat and lie down with the front of your hips on the blanket.
If you have a stiff back:
- Lie down with your chest on a yoga bolster. This will allow you to start the pose with your chest already lifted, and make accessing the pose easier.
Poses Related to Dhanurasana
- Shalabhasana / Locust Pose
- Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose
- Chaturanga Dandasana / Half Plank or Four Limb Staff Pose
- Eka Pada Bhekasana / One Leg Frog Pose
- Virasana / Hero’s Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
- Ustrasana / Camel Pose
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Uttanasana / Forward Fold or Intense Pose
- Halasana / Plow Pose
- Sarvangasana / Shoulder Stand
- Padahastasana / Hands Under Feet Forward Fold
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog
- Paschimottanasana / Intense Stretch of the West or Seated Forward Fold
Poses to Take Your Practice Further
- Bhekasana / Frog Pose
- Akarna Dhanurasana / Archer Pose or Ear Bow Pose
- Parsva Dhanurasana / Side Bow Pose
- Purna Dhanurasana / Full Bow Pose
- Urdhva Dhanurasana / Upward Bow Pose or Full Wheel
- Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana / One Leg Upward Bow Pose
Related Posts & Videos
Gear and Further Reading
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
Save 10% – Yoloha yoga gear, including cork yoga mats and blocks, organic cotton yoga straps, bolsters and more, is 10% off when you use our code adventure10 at checkout!
A Final Note About Bow Pose
Dhanurasana is a pose that continually asks me for more. More strength in my back, more opening in my shoulders, more toning of my deep core, more strength in my legs, and more focus and dedication in my practice.
And this is exactly why I love yoga. It is always asking me to go inside and find my capacity for more.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Bow Pose. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your life adventure to the fullest.