Open your Heart to Backbends: Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-facing Bow Pose)
By Roxann D'souza
Do you find backbends/heart-openers challenging? Well, the truth is that they don’t come naturally to the human body, picture this- if something fell on the floor, we wouldn’t ever bend backwards to pick it up. Forward bends feel more natural and comfortable to our bodies, but great things never came from staying within our comfort zones!
Opening up your heart can make you feel vulnerable, but I promise you, beyond vulnerability lies victory, strength and confidence. Think of a runner crossing the finish line – he throws his arms out wide and pushes his chest forward, you’re going to feel the same when you achieve the heart opener that you’ve been prepping for.
Here’s a list of things that will help our heart opening journey:
Shoulder opening is often forgotten, but it is needed to push our chest forward – literally opening up our hearts. This relieves the pressure felt on the thoracic and lumbar region. Do NOT restrict your bends to the middle and lower back. Your heart-openers will look uneven, putting unnecessary strain in those areas. Always bend by expanding your chest and opening your shoulders. This simple movement and awareness will create even flexibility in the entire spine.
Well, obviously, you need a flexible back. Work on basic postures like Dhanurasana and Shalabasana to develop back strength and flexibility. However, a flexible back is not always a strong one. Advance heart-openers require the combination of a strong core and back, we’ll come back to this another time.
Some backbends require us to push away from the ground with our legs. Hence, our leg strength is crucial to keep these postures steady.
The depth of your backbend also depends on the flexibility of your quadriceps, especially in advanced poses that need us to grab our ankles. Keep this in mind – Whenever we bend backwards, we stretch our anterior muscles and contract our posterior muscles. So while our back muscles are contracting, our stomach and quadriceps get stretched out.
Let’s put all our learnings together to do a basic heart- opener:
Urdhwa Dhanurasana/ Upward-facing Bow Pose
- We begin by lying supine. Bend your legs with your feet hips width apart and near the buttocks.
- Place your palms on under the shoulders, elbows pointing to the ceiling.
- Simultaneously push into your feet and palms, lifting your body up, coming to the crown of your head. If you’ve managed to push up till here, you definitely have the strength to push all the way up!
- So once again, press in to your palms, activate your shoulders and push up towards the ceiling. Stay for 5 long breaths. Exhaling, tuck your chin into your chest and release by placing your nape down first, then your torso.
A common mistake in the pose it to push the body towards the legs, refrain from doing so and push upwards towards the sky. Our aim is to eventually stack our chin, shoulders and chest over the wrist – pushing our hearts forward and opening it up even further.
Don’t forget to add in a simple counter pose like Balasana or Paschimottanasana.
It’s alright if your journey is a slow one and you can’t push yourself all the way up. All great things take time. When you finally push against gravity, lifting your body up and away from the floor, you will emerge victorious, conquering all your backbending fears. Happy heart opening, yogis.
About the Author: This article is written by Roxann D'souza. She has completed her yoga teacher training from The Yoga Institute (900 hr RYT), Mumbai and Ashtanga Yoga Mysore (200 hr RYT), Mysore. She has been practising yoga for 4 years and teaching yoga for over 2 years now. You can find her at the Urban Community Development Centre, Bandra for morning and evening classes. Follow her yoga journey on @roxyd90 on Instagram