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Yoga Backbends

Bow Pose

Bend back into the shape of a bow to feel energetically locked, loaded, and ready to take aim.

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If you’re among the millions of people glued to a desk for hours upon hours every day, then you need Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) in your life. This heart-opening backbend stretches your hip flexors and hamstrings (aka the muscles that are shortened and tightened, respectively, from all that sitting) while strengthening your back. It helps improve your posture by opening your chest and shoulders, counteracting the time you spend hunched over your computer.

Like all backbends, Bow Pose is energizing and stimulates the adrenal glands that sit above each kidney. It also increases blood flow to your digestive system (goodbye constipation!).

You may find yourself holding your breath in Bow Pose—resist this urge. Expanding through the front, back, and sides of your body stretches the diaphragm so that you can take deeper breaths. Breathing more deeply can lower your heart rate, regulate blood pressure, and help you relax. Strengthening your diaphragm through your yoga practice will help you get out of your head, stay grounded in your body, and quiet your mind—on and off the mat.

Bow Pose basics

Sanskrit: Dhanurasana (dah-nur-AH-sa-na)

Pose Type: Backbend

Target Area: Core

Why We Love It: “I began to deepen my practice of Dhanurasana when I came to understand it translates to ‘Bow’ pose. I am a Sagittarius rising, and I find Dhanurasana fitting for me, since Sagittarius is the archer. While practicing the pose, I imagine myself as a bow and my breath as an arrow, slicing through stagnant spaces within my whole being. It opens my thighs, pelvic region, abdominal, and heart spaces, which is needed for me as an ex-football player. I recently was invited to deepen my understanding of the philosophical roots of yoga. In that process, I have opened to this asana even more. I have been practicing Dhanurasana while meditating on the removal of what in Jainism is called ‘pudgala druvya,’ a type of material substance that can keep us in samsara (cycle of death and rebirth).” —Cameron Allen, YJ astrology columnist

Join Outside+ today to get access to exclusive pose information, including our complete guide to Bow Pose, featuring video instruction, anatomy know-how, and additional pose variations. 

Pose benefits

Bow Pose can boost energy and fight fatigue. It may help to build confidence and empowerment. Bow Pose also improves posture and counteracts the effects of sitting for extended periods of time, such as slouching and kyphosis (abnormal curvature of the spine). It may help relieve back pain. It stretches your abdomen, chest, shoulders, front of your hips (hip flexors), and the front of your thighs (quadriceps). Bow Pose strengthens your back muscles, the back of your thighs, and buttocks (glutes).

Bow Pose: Step-by-step instructions

Woman demonstrates Bow Pose
(Photo: Christopher Dougherty)
  1. Lie on your belly on your mat, with a blanket under your pelvis if needed. Press all of your toes into the floor and then bend your knees, keeping the toes active.
  2. Grab the outer edges of your ankles with your hands and flex your feet strongly.
  3. On an inhalation, lift your rib cage and shoulders toward your ears. On an exhalation, lengthen your tailbone and kick your legs back into your hands as you hold on firmly
  4. From here, lift your head and heart. Gaze forward. Extend through the roof of your mouth and crown of your head. As you do so, always keep strong energy moving from the base of your spine through the crown of your head to help support
  5. Stay lifted for 5 breaths

Teaching Bow Pose

Sometimes beginners find it difficult to lift their thighs away from the floor. Students can give their legs a little upward boost by lying with their thighs supported on a rolled-up blanket.

Variation: Bow Pose with a strap

A person demonstrates a variation of Bow Pose using a strap around their legs
(Photo: Christopher Dougherty)

If it is challenging to reach your ankles, place a strap around your ankles to extend your reach.

Preparatory poses

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Virasana (Hero Pose)

Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)

Counter Poses

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Pavanamuktasana (Wind-Relieving Pose, in which you lie on your back with your knees drawn into your chest)

Join Outside+ today to get access to exclusive pose information, including our complete guide to Bow Pose, featuring video instruction, anatomy know-how, and additional pose variations. You’ll also get access to members-only content, sequences, and classes, a subscription to Yoga Journal magazine, meal plans and recipes, and more.