*The story of Dhanurasana as told in Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij
The Bhagavad Gita, referred to as the Gita, is a yogic scripture that is basically a conversation between Arjuna, a prince, and Krisha. It begins with Arjuna making a choice. A war is breaking out, which is the last chance for Arjuna and his brothers to take back the lands that were unjustly stolen from them years before. However, fighting in this war means Arjuna will undoubtedly have to kill his relatives. Just as he raises his bow to begin to fight, he falters and lets it slip. He asks Krishna, who in the Gita is both mentor and charioteer, for advice. Krishna tells Arjuna that he must fulfill his dharma (his duty or purpose) as a warrior and fight against evil. He lets him know that even if he does kill others their immortal soul will live on. He goes on to explains to Arjuna that he must approach both happiness and distress with detachment because both will come and go throughout his life. In the end, Krishna advises Arjuna to surrender himself to him, as he is the personification of the Divine. This is a surrender of love and support. In the Gita, Arjuna represents our ego while Krishna represents our higher consciousness.
In a sense we are all warriors like Arjuna, battling the difficulties that arise in our lives, sometimes wishing to give up rather than take appropriate or right action. We sometimes feel that we must fight our way to enlightenment. The Gita teaches us that we need to identify our ego and learn to transcend it. In doing this we begin to surrender to what is while taking right action rather than fighting. We then start to see the challenges we are faced with as opportunities to grow.
Bow pose is an opportunity to apply right action on our yoga mats. We strike a perfect balance between being fearless while remaining detached from results. On a real bow, if there is too much tension it will break, if there is not enough there won’t be enough force to launch the arrow. We need to find just the right amount of effort to gain the benefits (like launching the arrow) without bringing harm to ourselves. We face this same principle of right effort in life; how much effort is the right amount for any given situation?
To do dhanurasana begin lying on the stomach. With an exhalation, bend the knees bringing the feet as close to the buttocks as possible. Grasp either feet or ankles with the hands. Ensure that the knees stay about hip distance apart. Inhale and press the heels into the hands with as much effort as the hands press back against that action. You will lift the feet upward possibly bringing the thighs off the floor. Keep pressing the tailbone toward the back of the knees, and keep the shoulder blades firmly pressing onto the back. Gaze forward and breathe. Take the pose for 5 long breathes, ensuring you are using just the right amount of effort to balance the benefits with not bringing harm. This pose stretches the entire front plane of the body while strengthening the back and helps to improve posture.
Another way to take this pose is to roll up a blanket or thick towel and place it under the mid part of the thighs to give the upward motion of the thighs lifting without the same effort. The blanket can also be placed under the pelvis to allow more openness in the chest and shoulders. It can also be done by wrapping a strap or tie around the ankles and hold the ends of the strap. This pose shouldn’t be done when one has a serious back injury.