Urdhva dhanurasana

Urdhva dhanurasana - a detailed approach

Urdhva dhanurasana, June 2021

Urdhva dhanurasana, June 2021

This is how my urdhva ddhanurasana looks these days. It’s visible that I worked on back bending.

My understanding about back bending deepened. It allowed me to work with different body parts separately.

  • The leg muscles need to be strong in order to come out of the pose. Equally important is to stretch them.

  • Most of us have a sedentary life. Many Ashtanga practitioners practice primary for years these days. The hip flexor is shortened therefore. This makes back bending difficult. To stretch the hip flexor takes time, it comes with discomfort. Yet finally flexibility can improve. In order to stretch the hip flexors I add exercises during my practice. I work on the splits every day as well.

  • The entire body can get lengthened if one hangs over a high chair so that feet and hands are in the air. One can also hang at a bar.

  • To stretch the shoulders and upper body made a huge difference for my back bending ablilities.

  • The arms need to be strong in order to lift up the body. Isolated strength training can be done.

  • It’s also important to get into the pose correctly.

  • Deep breathing supports the movement.

A goal is to feel good when performing an asana. To stretch and to work on strength comes with discomfort. Otherwise nothing happens. Yet finally an asana can bring joy. It can be possible to relax in an awkward looking position. Sometimes I reach this status, sometimes not. Often an asana feels better at the second and third attempt. Not to give up too early can be rewarding.

My yoga week has started. The first surya namaskars is always a bit stiff, but soon the body woke up.

Explore your possibilities.

Life is an experiment. Be courageous.

Urdhva dhanurasana

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Great. I did it.

Today was my back bending day. I usually start with the second Ashtanga Yoga series on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I add asanas that I consider as supportive. For instance do I add the splits before ustrasana. Today I stretched also the upper body. Usually I practice urdhva dhanurasana against a wall. I hold it for one minute. These tiny variations make it easy to repeat the pose. Repetition is so important. Often the back bending asanas take so much time that I don’t have the time to do all the poses of the second series. I usually add twists and one or two forwardbending asanas. A longer or shorter closing sequence finishes my practice. Tomorrow I’ll work on forward bending asanas and vinyasa again.

The floor on the picture tells me that my hands couldn’t walk closer to the feet since I took pictures the last time. The pose looks like a few weeks back. This is OK, because practicing this pose is already an accomplishment. The pictures are so similar, that I wonder what is different. This time I had put my T-shirt into my pants to prevent it from sliding. I used the black yoga mat as it is thicker and softer.

Hard work shows results.

Urdhva dhanurasana June 2020

Urdhva dhanurasana June 2020

I had a clear goal in mind. Feet and hands should get closer to each other. Last time four boards were between hands and feet. I got closer. To have only 3 boards between hands and feet was the goal. I’m not yet there, but I’m closer. This astonished me when I checked my pictures. I thought it would take longer to minimize the distance between hands and feet.

I did stretching exercises for the hips (lunges).

I did additional stretching exercises for the upper body and the shoulders (hangman i.e.) This allowed me to get deeper into this back bending asana.

I usually hold this pose for one minute. I start a timer. It’s still a challenge and I’m always close to give up. But I hold it. This stretches the body. The body gets familiar with the asana.

Most important is to practice safely. I always try to get safe into this pose:

  1. I start from lying on my back. I bring the feet as close to the body as possible. Feet shall be parallel to each other. It feels as if they are turned inwardly. The pictures proofs that the feet are rather parallel.

  2. I put the hands under my shoulders.

  3. The next step is important. I press the back on the floor. This causes a movement of the hips, that prepares for the back bending. I engage the bandhas to protect at least the SI joints.

  4. Then I lift the body up, till the crown of my head is on the floor.

  5. With the next inhaling I get into the pose. I try to keep the elbows parallel. I also try to get into the pose without moving to the feet and then swinging back. It’s recommended to get straight into this pose.

  6. Finally I adjust. In order to have an even bridge I push the body to the hands with my feet.

  7. I breathe deeply. After a while I walk the hands closer till I reach my limit.

Those who experienced injuries especially back injuries know that it’s important to practice correctly. Strong legs are important, strong arms, too. A strong core is useful, too. Yet it’s recommended to create length in order to bend. This allows to relax the lower back.

This picture is taken after many many back bends. I was prepared for this asana. It’s summer here, it got warmer. Warm weather is such a support for the practice.

The process is volatile

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Not one single practice is like another one.

On Sundays (today) my yoga week begins. My arm was still a bit warm and hardened due to the vaccination, but I could practice. After a break of three days I felt stiff. The practice today was a warm-up. My approach was rather easy-going than ambitious. Only one thing I wanted to do and I did it. I held urdhva dhanurasana for one minute. It was hard, but I could feel that it’s going to be easier. Two weeks ago I couldn’t hold this position so long. When it gets tough, I start counting. After 15 breaths I walk my hands a tiny bit closer to the feet. It distracts me from the thought that I cannot hold this pose for another fraction of a second. I know, I can. After 5 more breaths the minute is over. The sound of the timer is impatiently awaited already.

More important than having practices that are mega, is to practice. This stiff practice today is the basis for the good ones to come. One must love the process. The process is volatile. It comes with many different feelings. They range from joy to frustration.

Ups and downs are part of life, too. Some days are excellent others not. Sometimes we blame people and things for our days, but this doesn’t help much. On the mat we learn to stay relaxed. I keep breathing when I feel discomfort. I keep breathing when I get frustrated. I keep breathing when things go well. Breathing is always possible. Observing is possible, too. These are methods that can also help us during difficult times.

One practice out of 6 is done already. This gives me confidence that I’ll practice tomorrow as well.

It’s going to be a nice day with a lot of sunshine.

Know the why

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If one knows the why it’s easier to do anything. An activity becomes an urgency. It can give huge energy if one can better the own life. It can be even more rewarding if the reason why we do something are other people or animals.

I know why I practice yoga. I feel better every day after my practice. Yoga gives an orientation in my life. My yoga practice will support my goal to stay as long as possible independent from support. I know many reasons why I practice yoga. To know one reason is enough. But this one reason must remembered when it gets difficult to exercise. Valleys always come for everybody no matter how experienced a yogi is. To have no issues anymore is not the promise yoga gives.

Reasons for our activities are endless. We might go to work because otherwise we get fired or we cannot survive. During Corona times I wear a mask because the grocery stores don’t let me enter. I also don’t want to be a danger for anybody. In addition I have to pay a fine. Not always the reasons for an activity are convincing. Sometimes they are not strong enough to make a person doing anything.

Today I also realized how important it is to practice early in the morning. It’s good to practice before breakfast, but it’s better to start really early, let’s say 6:30. Today I started at 8 am. The world wakes up already. In the neighborhood the craftsmen start working. This is always loud. Cars can be heard. The telephone rings. My beloved E gets up, takes a shower and soon I have the smell of coffee in my nose. Suddenly I was in a hurry. I was in the middle of my practice. I finished it gracefully. The feeling of calmness, having time, being relaxed is better than feeling in a hurry. I hope this experience of today gives me a good reason fro tomorrow morning to get up and to leave my cosy bed.

My most important task today:

I’ll write a handwritten letter to a very nice seven year old boy. Also the youngsters must learn at home. It’s difficult to learn writing by hand if you have a PC and if it’s possible to type. One day it might not even be necessary to know how to write our own name. We can use our fingerprint. Nevertheless the schedule forces this smart little boy to learn writing. Why? He might not see a good reason. Tomorrow he’ll get a letter written by me, with some questions. Yesterday I bought a nice card in addition. I’ll express my joy if I get an answer. A return letter will be in my letter as well. I don’t want to create obstacles. I hope that my letter will give him a reason to learn writing by hand. It’s so much more joyful to have a positive reason than to be forced to do something. I know that I’m rather self-confident when I think that I’m a good reason to learn writing.

Elbows in

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Yesterday I saw a very interesting Youtube video on urdhva dhanurasana. It’s possible to stretch different body parts isolated. The yogi even recommended to stretch for 5 minutes. Stretching takes time. To move in a pose and to leave it after 5 breaths is not enough to stretch effectively

There are two parts of the body that one can stretch as a preparation for urdhva dhanurasana. It’s the front of the hips and the upper body. I usually stretch the front of the hips with split poses. There are a lot of stretching exercises for the upper body. On the picture is one of them.

The most interesting tips came at the end of the video.

  • The elbows shall move inwards. They tend to move outwards. I checked my video and realized that this is the case when I lift up into urdhva dhanurasana.

  • The next tip is to move forward when lifting, not upwards. This avoids that the body moves back and forth till the end position is reached.

I tried to implement these tips today. It felt good, not only because it’s demanding. It also seems to be the correct movement.

Learning never stops. The worldwide yoga community has so much knowledge. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the good voices, but it’s possible.

Highlight of my practice today:

More and more asana are easy to perform when I practice primary. The body has a good memory. I have the feeling that I could take a nap while performing many asanas. This is of course not possible, as each and every asana needs attention. Some muscles are active, some relax. The bandhas are engaged and the eyes are open. Feeling good is the goal, it’s as if one has reached the top of a mountain. It allows to look back to the stony journey. Joy arises.

Each practice gives me ideas for the next practice. Tomorrow I’d like to use a strap around my arms to keep the elbows in. The body should be able to have the strength and flexibility to do this alone. The strap can only help to give the feeling. Despite the strap the elbows should move inward not outwards. If the strap is sliding it’s a good sign that the body has understood the movement. All tools should only be used temporarily.

Back bending

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Yesterday was a day off from yoga. The body needs this day. I slept a lot and was lazy. After only one day the body is already a tiny bit less flexible. Yet I felt strong. I was yearning for my practice. The body felt fresh and relaxed. I was motivated.

Again I realized how important it is to focus on one topic. Today it was back bending. The one and only goal for this week is to hold urdhva dhanurasana (UD) for 1 minute and 20 sec. I need these 20 sec to switch on the timer and to get into the pose. Today I could hold UD already a few sec longer than last week. I’ll aim for 25 breaths. Then the alarm should tell me that it’s done. My breaths is faster than in relaxing positions. The average number of breaths within a minute is 15. Yet if a position is exhausting the body meeds more oxygen that is more breaths.

When I practice I don’t take pictures these days, because I want to focus on the practice. Taking pictures is motivating, but also distracting. The above picture is taken after my yoga practice. I experimented. Imagine: Some yogini can reach the head with their feet. No joke. I don’t think that this position will support my back bending goals in general. Nice to have tried it out.

The wheel an be a useful prop. Not every position over this wheel makes sense.

The yoga week has started. I’m looking forward to the coming week.

Urdhva Dhanurasana

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Yesterday I went to a yoga class again. The teacher led us also through more challenging asanas. When we were in urdhva dhanurasana we were asked to lift up the right leg, then the left leg, then the right arm, then the left arm. I was more than surprised that I could do this. This variation was lost. Now it’s back. This is so awesome.

It was not a piece of cake.

Lift the leg, I thought. There was no alternative to this message. And voilà.

I don’t want to give up my home practice anymore. Yet yesterday I also saw the advantages of yoga classes. I got introduced to variations of asanas that I’ve never practiced so far. To practice in a group is fun and it gives energy.

I bought a membership at the Sivananda yoga studio. It lasts one year. It shall complement my Ashtanga yoga practice at home.

I’ll write about my Sivananda classes more in the next posts.

Wheel every Wednesday

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Another Wednesday has come. I took a picture of another wheel (urdhva dhanursanana). Today I took the picture after primary Ashtanga yoga series with all these forward bending asanas. To get from forward bending asanas to back bending asanas rather quickly without much preparation is an extra challenge. But sometimes I take this Wednesday wheel after many back bending asanas. When I compare all these wheels I cannot make out a difference. I should change my yoga clothes…. hahaha…….but brighter colors are better for the pictures.

I call this a plateau. On the surface nothing moves. Yet it requires discipline not to give up. One day it might seem like a miracle a difference can be seen. It might seem as if progress happened from one day to the next but this is not true. All the effort, sometimes over months/years is necessary. Perhaps I’m stronger again and the flexibility got weaker. Who knows……..

I keep wheeling. I love the community on Instagram. Worldwide are yoga practitioners who get into a wheel every Wednesday. This has power. This is amazing.

The gap between the plan and the performance

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Sometimes there is a gap between the plan and what happens on the mat. A plan can only be a guide. It’s not written in stone. My plan today was to do 3 sets with 5 repetitions of urdhva dhanurasana. In addition I wanted to hold urdhva dhanurasana at least once for 1 minute. This was simply not what my body could do today. The idea to work on strength is surely good. It’s also good to hold the body longer in order to give the body time to stretch into the pose. The insight is that I have to create a training that picks me up where I’m now and not where I want to be . To create tiny steps are a good strategy. Tomorrow I plan to do 3 sets with 2 repetitions of urdhva dhanurasana. This is much less. I also want to hold this pose for 1 minute.

In many yoga classes I saw yogis before urdhva dhanurasana lying on the back, waiting. To lift up into urdhva dhanurasana seemed so heavy. I observed myself doing the same. I lied there, I knew what I wanted to do, but it seemed undoable. I think I know now why this was so. To lift up into urdhva dhanurasana required strength. I was not strong enough and at the end of a practice my willpower was exhausted, too. This is why I want to focus also on strength these days.

Strength: To get with an inhale into urdhva dhanurasana and to get out with the exhaling and to repeat this several times is more or less a strength training. The arms and legs are challenged.

Flexibility: Staying in urdhva dhanurasana for a longer time (1 minute or 2 minutes) and walking the arms to the feet or the other way round is a stretching exercise.

Both is needed. Urdhva dhanurasana requires strength and flexibility. One can work on both skills separately as described above.

Also the right technique plays an important role. The hips shall support the movement. A deep inhaling helps enormously to get into the pose. To create length in the body is also very important.

The wall is my favorite prop when I work on urdhva dhanurasana. It gives me orientation when I lift myself up from the floor. The upper body moves towards the wall. I also drop back against the wall from a standing position. One day I’ll surely drop back again in the middle of the room. It’s not the time yet for this dynamic movement.

Progress can be felt.

The final goal is that it’s relaxing and joyful to perform this back bending asana. I’ve been there.

Back bending

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Today I was curious how the back bending asanas would look. They always feel intensive. What I realize is that I have a starting point that is motivating. Not everything is lost. The above pose was possible after many many repetitions. Today was my back bending day. Also my wheel helped me to get deeper and deeper into back bending poses. 90 minutes were over very fast. 90 minutes is enough. I try to fill this time with exercises that make sense. Quality over quantity.

The plan:

  1. The classic exercise is to lift up and to hold urdhva dhanurasna for 5 breaths. Then one lowers the head to the floor. The hands walk to the feet. and again the arms stretch and lift the body into urdhva dhanurasana. I think this is a good start.

  2. In order to get stronger one can lift up as often as possible. One can do 3 sets of this.

  3. It can also be useful to aim for holding this pose for 1 minute. The body needs time to stretch. Last but not least urdhva dhanurasana is a pose that stretches the body backwards.

Urdhva dhanurasana is an asana that Ashtangis practice every day.

After the twists of the second series the time was over.