Today's Daily Tip
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) is an uplifting posture. It stimulates the nervous system and opens the heart, and can leave you glowing with energy and vitality for the rest of the day. But Urdhva Dhanurasana can also be used as a tool for gaining clarity and focus. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali writes, "Effort toward steadiness of mind is practice" (I.13). If you apply that principle to your Urdhva Dhanurasana practice, you'll discover a whole new layer of potential in the pose.
"Urdhva Dhanurasana is a challenging posture," says Natasha Rizopoulos, a senior teacher at YogaWorks, who lives in Boston. "But challenging postures are the best places to work on steadying the mind. The challenges become a place for you to really focus and pay attention."To begin a mindful approach to Urdhva Dhanurasana, start by setting an intention to open evenly and progressively into it, as opposed to simply going for your biggest pose at all costs. The most intelligent and advanced Urdhva Dhanurasana is not the biggest one you can muster, but one in which the spine is an even, rounded curve.
It takes mindfulness to achieve this. The evenness of the spine is often thwarted by tightness in either the shoulders or the hip flexors. To avoid the resistance from that tightness, you overcompensate at the junctures where the spine changes direction. This results in an uneven backbend with little points in it, which causes jamming and potential injury. However, if you bring focus and patience into your practice, you can learn to open into the spine deliberately and evenly. "We tend to rush through hard things," says Rizopoulos. "If you go slowly and can be more interested in the actions than in the result, you'll be better able to find that even curve and do so from a place that is calmer and more composed."
Once you are in Urdhva Dhanurasana, you can continue to cultivate a steady mind. Tune in to the places where you feel tight—the hip flexors and shoulders, for most people—and make a mental note for the next time you practice to address those areas with preparatory poses like the ones offered in this sequence. When you do feel resistance in the shoulders or hip flexors, Rizopoulos suggests that you stay present enough to linger for a moment with the tension instead of trying to avoid the discomfort by forcing yourself further into the pose. You can also use a soft and unwavering drishti (gaze) to steady the mind throughout this sequence as you prepare for this demanding posture.
Practice with the clear intention of maintaining a quiet mind, move slowly and deliberately, and stay present with sensation. You'll not only enable your body to practice this pose for years to come but also cultivate the ability to keep a steady mind in stimulating situations—a great tool you can use in everyday life.