Urdhva Dhanurasana or Wheel Pose
The Upward Bow or Wheel Pose is about complete involvement. Chakra means “wheel” which denotes a circle without beginning or end. Urdhva Dhanurasana is therefore about wholeness and unity – it is also the ultimate energising asana.
Awakening to life
Extending yourself backwards and into the unknown helps you to confront your fears when life presents you with challenges. Backbends open the chest and heart centre (Anahata chakra) and encourage inhalation – an action associated with embracing life. Because of this expansion into the heart centre, you are also bringing a joyful vitality into your life. Bending backwards turns the body out to face the world and helps you to see things from a different perspective.
Bending back and opening the chest also unlocks the spirit within. Practicing these postures takes you along previously untravelled paths, challenging you to overcome fear and frustration, teaching you to move with ease and grace and to live with an open heart and a passion for life and love. Looking at the subtle body, backbends predominantly work to open Anahata chakra, relating to love – for self and others – as well as Manipura chakra – relating to personal power. It however works to awaken and energise all seven chakras, clearing out your personal blockages as well as the nadis.
Backbends offer a fantastic counterpose to most of the forward bending we do during the day like sitting at a desk, driving and housework. They warm the system, increase energy, invigorate tired bodies and bring flexibility to the spine. Backbends also increase determination and willpower. They are dynamic postures which move to counter gravity and therefore require and build energy and strength, especially in the wrists, arms, legs, buttocks and spine. They also stretch the front of the abdomen, hips, thighs, shoulders and chest. Although they can be initially very challenging, practicing backbends can help to increase energy and counteract depression.
When you are feeling sluggish, tamasic or in a rut, backbends shift the energy and leave the mind clear and focused. Backbends make you feel invigorated, empowered and free, with expanded boundaries. Working with total awareness will bring you into contact with not only your physical capabilities and strengths, but will help you to work out your problems on an emotional level too.
During backbends, the thymus is pressured and then released. This stimulation aids the immune system. The nervous system is also stimulated, building heat and encouraging metabolism. Cerebral spinal fluids are further pumped into the body resulting in a clearer mind and opening up of all the nadis in the body. The abdominal muscles receive a stretch and so does the digestive system and bladder. Backbends stimulate the lymphatic system, pumping lymphatic fluids by opening the chest, armpits and groin where lymph nodes and glands are located. The kidneys and adrenals are squeezed, further enhancing this cleansing action, while simultaneously releasing adrenaline, which can feel like a buzzy rush for some and create a feeling of fear for others, especially beginners.
Many people are not comfortable or encounter fear in backbends. This is one of the reasons strong backbends are usually not taught to beginners. Softer and gentler backbends (like Marjariasana, The Cat Pose) can begin this process.
How to practice:
Step One – lie with your back on the floor and bend and raise your elbows over the head and place the palms under your shoulders. The distance between the palms should not be wider than the shoulders and the fingers should point towards the feet.
Step Two – bend and raise your knees, then bring the feet nearer to the body. Exhale and raise the trunk and rest the crown of the head onto the floor. Take two breaths. Now bring your arms to the chest and then extend your arms backward towards the floor. Bring arms back forward again.
Step Three – exhale and lift the trunk and head off the floor and arch the back so that the weight is taken on the palms and the soles of the feet. Stretch the arms away from the shoulders until the elbows are straight and, at the same time, pull the thigh muscles up. Hold asana for 30 seconds to one minute. To come out the asana, bend the elbows and knees, release the arch in the back, lowering the head back to the floor and unfolding the spine back onto the floor gently from the shoulders to the tailbone.
Deepen the asana
Pull the thigh muscles still higher by lifting the heels off the floor, maintaining the stretch of the spine. Walk the feet a little closer to the hands and then press the heels back into the floor again. This increases the depth of the backbend.