Yoga as the counterpose

Bow pose

When we have spent too long doing something, either physically or mentally, we need to spend some time ‘undoing’ or doing the opposite, in order to re-balance the mind and body. Spent all day sat at your desk, churning out a report? The body is probably desperate to move and get active. Had a long and difficult meeting, taxing the brain? Time to let the mind be soothed with music, mantra or meditation.

Bow pose
Dhanurasana (C) Alyson Tyler

In yoga we’re familiar with the idea of the counterpose, often regarded as returning the body to a balanced centre, for example, twists often follow a backbend sequence. However, a yoga practice itself could be the counterpose to whatever you’ve been doing. After a long afternoon gardening, with almost all of it as forward bends, I really needed a counterpose and so my short yoga session served that purpose, with a focus on backbends. Bow pose (dhanurasana) was the key pose for me that day, to open the chest, broaden across the shoulders, and experience a deep backbend.

For the mythology around the pose and its name, this Yoga International article is interesting, and it also had a suggested practice sequence if you want to lead up to bow pose. The sequence includes the variation I call ‘rock and roll bow’, which is more sensibly known as side bow or parshva dhanurasana. This Yoga Journal article on dhanurasana provides modifications using a strap if you can’t reach your ankles, and also discusses the pose in terms of improving upper body posture.

If you have issues with bow pose, this video demonstrates with three different yoga students, how to adapt the pose for different issues such as knee pain, over-dipping in the lower back, or splayed feet.

There are variations around dhanurasana, particularly where the hands are, how high the knees lift and how high the shoulders lift. Another variation is to place the hands inside the ankles in one variation. In this picture the person’s knees are the same height as their shoulders, but in this article and picture and the Yoga International one mentioned earlier, the shoulders are in line with the ankles, and hardly any of the thighs are lifting off the floor. This creates a much deeper backbend in the lower back, as the backbend is less evenly spread or distributed along the whole spine. It also then becomes more similar to camel (ustrasana) pose, if you imagine turning the bow pose clockwise upright 90 degrees so that the shins are on the floor, not the thighs.

Camel pose
Ustrasana (C) Alyson Tyler

Do you do something regularly/too much which needs a counterpose? Is your yoga practice (asana, pranayama or meditation), your counterpose to something?


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