[IMAGE CREDIT]Edward Chen Photography; Bikram’s Yoga North Vancouver
This new series of blog posts features tips and tricks by teachers and students, each of whom has mastered a specific posture in the Bikram Yoga series! Think of it as an “insider’s guide” to doing the poses – each week you’ll learn something new that will help you advance your own practice!
Bikram Yoga Posture
Standing Bow (Dandayamana-Dhanurasana)
Bikram Yoga Expert
BYV Teacher and Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Champion Mari D.
First and foremost, be open and present. The teacher is almost always telling you exactly what to do and how to do it, so listen and just try … as long as you try, you are moving in the right direction. Also, the more you come to class, the more details you will hear and be able to apply to your practice. Remember: your evolution as a yogi is never-ending. No matter how advanced you become, you can always go deeper into your practice.
The first thing to do when it comes to Standing Bow is to get a good set up. As much as possible (especially if you have been practising for a while), grab your foot at the ankle (not the shin or the toes), always picking it up from the inside with your palm facing up so that your shoulders are in a position to open and stretch.
Next, raise your other arm straight up in front of you; Bikram’s dialogue says to touch your shoulder to your chin, not your chin to your shoulder. Keep your chin lifted and extend your arm forward to bring your shoulder and chin together; this will help promote proper alignment of the shoulders and will allow you to eventually get the two shoulders in one line. Your goal, eventually, is to maintain contact between shoulder and chin throughout the posture, so try not to let your shoulder surge back and forth by maintaining continuous stretching from the shoulder (scapula) right to the end of the fingertips.
Also, be sure to start with your knees touching together to ensure proper balance and alignment. Just as in Standing Head to Knee Pose, the standing leg is your foundation; keep your knee locked with a firm contraction of the thigh and keep the standing foot straight and flat (the tendency to roll onto your heel or the outside of the foot will make you lose your balance and put unnecessary pressure on the knee joint). Keep your weight toward the front of your foot, watching that it doesn’t move back into the heel as you initiate your kick.
Stay present; be mindful as you go into the posture. Always remember that “kicking and stretching are 50-50, equal, simultaneous.” When you use more gluteus (butt!) strength and increase the force of your kick, you must also increase the energy of the arm stretching toward the mirror in order to maintain your balance. It really is like a “bow and arrow,” with equal stretching happening to the front and back!
Some students tend to rush and dive into the posture too fast. Remember: you are always in control (that control stems from the breath). Think about what you are doing, get the proper alignment in the set up, make sure you are grounded on a strong, solid standing leg (using you quadriceps and gluteus muscles to keep the standing leg locked), and then move slowly and mindfully into your posture.
It’s helpful to remember that Standing Bow is a backbend and a spine twist. If you are kicking with the right leg, you are continuously stretching your left arm forward (shoulder always with the chin; if the shoulder hurts a little bit, don’t worry! You’re doing it right and it’s getting stronger!). At the same time, let the right shoulder relax and then use the power of the kick to pull that right shoulder back (until, eventually, two shoulders are in one line). This will open the chest and create the spine twist in the upper spine.
Because you’re kicking back and up, as you bring the body down (abdomen parallel to the floor) you’re also creating a backbend – so, eventually, you will have two feet in one line from the side. Always ensure that, when you kick back, the standing leg is straight and solid and the kicking leg is directly behind you – knee invisible behind the body, keeping the standing foot straight and flat with the weight a little more forward on the ball of the foot so that you have the good alignment and therefore gain the maximum therapeutic benefit from the posture. These benefits include: improving elasticity, flexibility and mobility in the spine; helping to ease back pain through compression of the spine; toning and trimming the hips, buttocks and thighs; and strengthening the knees and ankles.
Let the power of the kick do most of the work and don’t be afraid to bring the body down while continuously stretching the arm forward toward the mirror using all the strength in your shoulder (really put the trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles to work!). You are also stretching the chest (heart and lungs), diaphragm and ribcage, improving respiration (breathing).
In order for the leg to go up, the body has to come down (especially if you are not as flexible and don’t have really long limbs). Same if you want to get your two feet in one line from the side: the torso must come down all the way until the abdomen is parallel to the floor. This will also help create natural irrigation of the circulatory system – the transfer of blood flow from one side of the body to the other – as well as stimulate overall circulation through out the body – so bring your body down!
The only way to keep the balance, especially as you learn to bring the body down more, is to continuously keep kicking and stretching! A really helpful tip is don’t think so much about balancing; rather, concentrate on using the strength of the gluteus muscle in the kicking leg to kick back harder and then higher, and keep stretching forward. The balance will take care of itself. (If you feel like you are losing the balance, you need to kick more – not less! – while trying your very best to touch the mirror.) Once you are not so focused on the balance you can start to be aware of the details, focusing and concentrating and finding the breath and stillness in your asana.
Which brings up another good point: be sure to always keep the breath moving (try to take a few focused deep breaths when you’re in the pose). As you inhale, focus your energy and stretch the shoulder and arm forward; on your exhale use that energy to kick harder and higher.
Personally, I always tell students not to be afraid or discouraged if they keep falling out of this one; just get back up, take a breath, get your alignment and good setup and then get back in the posture. The more you try the asana the more quickly your body and your posture will start to evolve and change.
Also, don’t get discouraged when things don’t happen right away exactly how you want them to; remember, it is a practice. Your body and your yoga practice are continuously changing and evolving – this is a good thing! It takes time, patience and determination to change the body so it’s important to be consistent and to acquire and maintain a regular practice. Try and enjoy where your mind and body are right now and how they are changing and starting to connect more.
The best advice I can give that has worked for me is to listen to the dialogue; also, don’t be scared to go deeper, to go somewhere new outside your comfort zone and keep trying. Get into the hot room as much as you can. If you want to feel better in your body and your yoga, practise more! Increase your frequency, practise with more precision and more intensity; if you want get a better Standing Bow, practise it over and over again. The best way to get better at it is to do it!