Yoga for Fitness

Upward Bow (Wheel) Pose

Need an energy boost? Urdhva Dhanurasana can help—and strengthen your arms, legs, abdomen, and spine in the process.

Wheel Pose

Upward Bow (Wheel) Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1

Lie supine on the floor. Bend your knees and set your feet on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible. Bend your elbows and spread your palms on the floor beside your head, forearms relatively perpendicular to the floor, fingers pointing toward your shoulders.

Step 2

Pressing your inner feet actively into the floor, exhale and push your tailbone up toward the pubis, firming (but not hardening) the buttocks, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and inner feet parallel. Take 2 or 3 breaths. Then firmly press the inner hands into the floor and your shoulder blades against the back and lift up onto the crown of your head. Keep your arms parallel. Take 2 or 3 breaths.

Step 3

Press your feet and hands into the floor, tailbone and shoulder blades against your back, and with an exhalation, lift your head off the floor and straighten your arms. Turn the upper thighs slightly inward and firm the outer thighs. Narrow the hip points and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees, lifting the pubis toward the navel.


Step 4

Turn the upper arms outward but keep the weight on the bases of the index fingers. Spread the shoulder blades across the back and let the head hang, or lift it slightly to look down at the floor.


Step 5

Stay in the pose anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds or more, breathing easily. Repeat anywhere from 3 to 10 times.


Pose Information

Sanskrit Name

Urdhva Dhanurasana

Pose Level

1

Contraindications and Cautions

  • Back injury
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Heart problems
  • High or low blood pressure

Modifications and Props

Often the armpits and/or groins are tight and restrict full movement into this pose. You can support either your hands or feet on a pair of blocks to help yourself realize the full backbend. Be sure to brace the blocks against a wall, and if you like, cover them with a sticky mat to keep the hands or feet from slipping.

Deepen the Pose

Once in the pose, lift your heels away from the floor and press your tailbone toward the ceiling. Walk the feet a little closer to the hands. Then, from the height of the tailbone, press the heels into the floor again. This will increase the depth of the backbend.

Preparatory Poses

Follow-up Poses

Beginner’s Tip

The knees and feet tend to splay as you lift into this pose, which compresses the lower back. In the beginning position, loop and secure a strap around your thighs, just above the knees, to hold the thighs at hip width and parallel to each other. To keep the feet from turning out, place a block between them, with the bases of the big toes pressing the ends of the block. As you go up, press the feet into the block.


Benefits

  • Stretches the chest and lungs
  • Strengthens the arms and wrists, legs, buttocks, abdomen, and spine
  • Stimulates the thyroid and pituitary
  • Increases energy and counteracts depression
  • Therapeutic for asthma, back pain, infertility, and osteoporosis

Partnering

A partner can help you learn about the work in the shoulders in this pose. Have your partner stand at your head, facing you. Perform the pose. Your partner can bring his/her hands around the sides of your torso so that his/her palms cover the shoulder blades and encourage them to widen away from the spine.

Variations

Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana (pronounced ACHE-ah POD-ah, eka = one, pada = foot or leg)

Perform Urdhva Dhanurasana. Shift your weight onto the left foot and, with an exhalation, bend your right knee and draw it into your torso. Then inhale and extend the right leg at about a 45 degree angle relative to the floor. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, exhale, bend the knee and return the foot to the floor. Repeat with the left leg for the same length of time.

Upward-Facing Dog Pose

Upward-Facing Dog will challenge you to lift and open your chest.


Upward-Facing Dog


Upward-Facing Dog Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1

Lie prone on the floor. Stretch your legs back, with the tops of your feet on the floor. Bend your elbows and spread your palms on the floor beside your waist so that your forearms are relatively perpendicular to the floor.


Step 2

Inhale and press your inner hands firmly into the floor and slightly back, as if you were trying to push yourself forward along the floor. Then straighten your arms and simultaneously lift your torso up and your legs a few inches off the floor on an inhalation. Keep the thighs firm and slightly turned inward, the arms firm and turned out so the elbow creases face forward.


Step 3

Press the tailbone toward the pubis and lift the pubis toward the navel. Narrow the hip points. Firm but don’t harden the buttocks.


Step 4

Firm the shoulder blades against the back and puff the side ribs forward. Lift through the top of the sternum but avoid pushing the front ribs forward, which only hardens the lower back. Look straight ahead or tip the head back slightly, but take care not to compress the back of the neck and harden the throat.


Step 5

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is one of the positions in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. You can also practice this pose individually, holding it anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds, breathing easily. Release back to the floor or lift into Adho Mukha Svanasana with an exhalation.


Pose Information

Sanskrit Name

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Pose Level

1

Contraindications and Cautions

  • Back injury
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Headache
  • Pregnancy

Modifications and Props

Often it’s difficult to keep the legs strongly suspended above the floor. Before you move into the pose, position a thick blanket roll below your top thighs. When you are in the pose, lightly rest your thighs on this roll as you press the tailbone closer to the roll.

Deepen the Pose

To increase the strength and lightness of this pose, push from the backs of your knees along the calves and out through the heels. The tops of your feet will press more firmly against the floor; as they do, lift the top sternum up and forward.

Preparatory Poses

Follow-up Poses

  • Backbends
  • Urdhva Mukha Svanasana will help you learn to lift the chest in poses like Tadasana and Virasana.

Beginner’s Tip

There’s a tendency in this pose to “hang” on the shoulders, which lifts them up toward the ears and “turtles” the neck. Actively draw the shoulders away from the ears by lengthening down along the back armpits, pulling the shoulder blades toward the tailbone, and puffing the side ribs forward. If you need help learning this, lift each hand on a block.

Benefits

  • Improves posture
  • Strengthens the spine, arms, wrists
  • Stretches chest and lungs, shoulders, and abdomen
  • Firms the buttocks
  • Stimulates abdominal organs
  • Helps relieve mild depression, fatigue, and sciatica
  • Therapeutic for asthma

Partnering

A partner can help you learn about the lift of the chest in this pose. Come into position with a strap looped around your back torso (across the shoulder blades) and under the armpits. Have your partner sit in front of you, a foot or so away, and grip and pull the ends of the strap, while at the same time pressing his/her feet lightly against the fronts of your shoulders. Release the heads of the upper arm bones away from this pressure as you dig the shoulder blades into the back, away from the strap.


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