This great weapon of upaniṣad [secret teaching];
Place veneration on it
As the whetted arrow;
Stretch it with the thought fixed on the nature of that;
That very imperishable is the target, my friend.
The bow is OṂ, the arrow’s the self,
The target is brahman, they say.
One must strike that undistracted.
He must be lodged in that.
Like the arrow, in the target.
From the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, 2.2.3-4.
Trans. Patrick Olivelle
From the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
"Having caught the toes of the feet with both the hands and carried them to the ears by drawing the body like a bow, it becomes Dhanura âsana."
And the Gheranda Samhita:
"Spreading the legs on the ground, straight like a stick, and catching hold of (the toes of) the feet with the hands, and making the body bent like a bow, is called by the Yogis the Dhanurâsana or Bow-posture."
- Bow I – the traditional posture, pictured above, catching the ankles.
- Bow II – bring your arms overhead and grab the toes of each foot, bringing the feet close to or onto the top of the head.
- Bow III – from Bow II, bring your feet to rest on your shoulder blades.
- Bow IV – beginning with your palms against the tops of your toes, first bring your feet toward your seat, then move them to the outside of your hips. This is much more of a leg stretch than a back bend. Iyengar calls this bhekāsana or mandūkāsana (both of which mean frog posture).
- Bow V – bring one foot to the side of the hip and the other to the top of the head or shoulder blade.
- Bow VI – grab one foot with an overhead reach and keep the other arm and leg extended. This is often called half bow pose.
- Bow VII – grab one foot reaching back for the ankle, extend the opposite arm and leg, and then lift the extended limbs.
- A strap around the ankles can make this pose accessible for those with less flexible spines or shoulders.
- One great piece of advice that comes from many sources is to begin with the knees wide, lift, and then work to bring the legs closer together.
- Work to lift the pelvis and the ribs. When this is accomplished, experiment with the addition of rocking forward and back. Let the movement of your breath facilitate the rocking.
- Pregnant women. (Lovers of the obvious, you’re welcome!)
- People with high blood pressure should not strain in this (or any) pose.
- Those experiencing low back, neck, or shoulder pain ought to stick with half bow or find an alternate back bend.
- Increases shoulder, spine, and hip joint flexibility
- Strengthens back muscles
- Increases circulation
- Is a heart opener and a stretch to the whole front side of the body
- Is energizing. Just as folding forward helps us slow down, opening up the front side of the body increases our alertness. This has both evolutionary and physiological explanations.
- First, we are ridiculously weak skinned creatures. Any time the whole front side of the body is stretched open, we might as well be wearing our organs on the outside. There is no skeletal protection. Maintenance of the species requires what we call “heart openers” to trigger alertness.
- Deep back bends squeeze the adrenal glands that sit on top of our kidneys, basically juicing them and releasing adrenaline into our blood stream.
"Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill. Therefore, devote yourself to the discipline of yoga, for yoga is skill in action."
From the Bhagavad Gita, 2:49-50
Trans. Eknath Easwaran