Do you know how this pose got its name?
If you look at the shape, you might see that it resembles an archer’s bow! The torso and legs represent the body of the bow, and the arms represent the string. Hence, “Bow Pose.” (“Dhanu” — meaning “bow” in Sanskrit)
This posture is a full backbend that opens the chest and the entire front of the body. So many of us spend a big part of the day in (unconscious) forward bends. Like driving, computer and desk work, couch-slouching, and carrying kids. But also, many of the physical activities that we do more purposely and are considered somewhat good for you can involve a lot of forward bending. Think of sports like swimming, golfing, cycling and even running.
Backward bends like bow are a great way to counter-balance all this forward bending. In the Hot 26 + 2 series we do many backbends including bow pose. Also in other traditions bow is often a peak pose or practiced as preparation for a deeper backbend.
While in the posture, you lay on your belly and create pressure on the abdomen which can stimulate the digestive and reproductive organs. Often women can experience relief from menstrual discomfort. In a deep backbend like this you strengthen the back muscles, which over time can help with back pain. Bow pose also feels so good because it stretches the whole front side of our body. We can feel an intense opening sensation in the chest, throat, abdomen, legs and hip-flexors. Sometimes people describe this feeling as ‘being cracked open’. After the pose, you can feel energized, uplifted, open and light.
In different traditions, this pose can be executed slightly differently. Mostly, the grip is at the ankles, while the feet are flexed. In the 26 + 2 series the grip is more on the arch of the foot, closer to the toes, with pointed toes. This will activate different muscles in the legs. Some advanced variations include a grip from the inside of the feet which will open your shoulders more. Sometimes you will be instructed to keep your head up with your gaze forward to keep length and space in your neck. Other times you might be encouraged to look backwards towards your toes, so your head is heavy and relaxed and your whole spine is included in the backbend. Which of these is appropriate for you can depend on whether you have tension in the neck and shoulders or if you have more flexibility in your spine.
Whichever variation you are doing, make sure you keep arms and legs hip-width apart. When you open your knees wider than your hips you risk creating too much compression in just the lower back and externally rotating your hips. Keeping maximum bodyweight in the belly (between the lowest ribs and the hip bones) helps to more equally distribute the backbend throughout the whole spine. The strength in this posture comes from the legs. Too much focus on the arms and pulling will create unnecessary tension in neck and shoulders.
Typically, this posture is held about 20-30 seconds. Performing a second set after a short rest, lying on your belly, can help you to find a deeper expression, more ease, more stillness, or a more natural, deeper breath.