Strengthening the Arms in Urdhva Dhanurasana—Phil Brown, Bournemouth, England
Maty Ezraty's reply:
First and foremost, you may need to work on less challenging postures that can help you understand the work of the arms, shoulders, and upper back. As you begin to understand this work, you can practice the proper actions to build the strength and flexibility required to complete Urdhva Dhanurasana. Here are some helpful postures.
Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand). This teaches the arm work that's necessary to develop the strength for Urdhva Dhanurasana. While you are in the pose, concentrate on drawing the forearms in and squeezing the upper arms to the bones until the arms are straight. If you have difficulty straightening the arms, wrap a strap around them just above the elbows. If you cannot do Handstand, practice Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute) with a block between your hands and work on the same actions.
Urdhva Dhanurasana Preparation. Lie on your back with your head near a wall. Place your hands on the ground, close to your ears. Lift your body up so the top of your head is on the ground and your elbows and wrists are at the wall, creating a right angle in the arms. Move the shoulders up away from the ears and keep the elbows shoulder width apart. Using the wall will train the upper back to coil open.
Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose). Do this with a chair against the wall to open the upper back.
Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) and reverse prayer position. These will help release the shoulders.
Putting the proper amount of effort into the above poses will ultimately allow you to create Urdhva Dhanurasana.
Maty Ezraty is co-creator of the first two Yoga Works yoga studios in Santa Monica, California. A former YJ Asana columnist, she travels around the world leading teacher trainings, workshops, and yoga retreats.