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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.
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
Become a member today to access Yoga Journal’s comprehensive Pose Library, which blends expert insights from top teachers with video instruction, anatomy know-how, variations, and more for 50+ poses, including Bow Pose. It’s a resource you’ll return to again and again.
Like all backbends, Bow Pose is energizing and stimulates the adrenal glands, which can help you fight fatigue. It also increases blood flow to your digestive system. 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
- 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.
- Grab the outer edges of your ankles with your hands and flex your feet strongly.
- 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
- From here, lift your head and heart. Gaze forward. Press down through your thighs to lift your chest.
- 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
If it is challenging to reach your ankles, place a strap around your ankles to extend your reach. You can clasp the strap behind your back, with your arms extended straight behind you as if you were reaching for your ankles, or you can reach above and hold the strap from overhead. (If you don’t have a strap, you can instead use a belt, towel, or sweatshirt.)
Pavanamuktasana (Wind-Relieving Pose, in which you lie on your back with your knees drawn into your chest)