Upward Bow (Urdva Dhanurasana) is one of the emblematic yoga asanas. “Exhilarating” is probably one of the best descriptors for Upward Bow.
It ain’t easy, though. Upward Bow requires a bendy lumbar spine, shoulder joints constructed to allow for full flexion, and elastic quadriceps muscles. Not everyone is born with extra mobile shoulder joints or bendy spines, but those whose bodies are naturally more stable can still enjoy backbending in many forms: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge), Urdva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) and Bhujangasana (Cobra), to name a few.
Wrists can pose a major restriction in Upward Bow. People with carpal tunnel issues find the extreme bend of the wrist joint in Upward Bow to be a deal breaker. Even if you don’t have carpal tunnel issues, it may be that your wrists aren’t built to extend to 90 degrees. The structure of your shoulder joints may also play a part. Whatever the cause of your Upward Bow challenges, a Yoga Wedge can be really helpful, because using it decreases the extension angle in your joints.
- Place a Yoga Wedge (Cork or Foam) on a nonskid Yoga Mat with the thick side toward the edge of the mat. This will help keep the wedge from slipping.
- Lie on your back on your mat with your head just below the Yoga Wedge. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor.
- Place your hands on the wedge with your fingers pointing toward you so that the heels of your hands are on the high side of the wedge. I like to turn my hands slightly outward. This helps keep your elbows shoulder-width apart, making it easier to raise up into Upward Bow.
- Press down with your hands and feet, pressing the weight toward your feet so that your legs are doing as much work as your arms. Then lift, any amount, into Upward Bow.
Your arms may or may not be able to straighten. This often has little to nothing to do with flexibility. More often than not, it has to do with the innate structure of your shoulder joints. Even though practicing Upward Bow with straight arms is often exalted as an indication of advanced practice, straight arms are more dependent on the skeleton you were born with than with the depth of your practice.
Remember that asana practice is not about accomplishing amazing feats. Rather, it’s about connecting fully with each moment of your experience. Using a Yoga Wedge might just help you feel freer and at ease in your pose, and that’s what practice is about.