Chandraprakash R Naidu recommends practising akarna dhanurasana to increase hip mobility and to strengthen the arms and shoulders.
I’ve been practicing hatha yoga for ten years and I’m in awe of masters like Yogacharya BKS Iyengar. As a young practitioner, I was attracted to the poses in Light on Yoga by Yogacharya Iyengar, and used these as the foundation for my practice. My journey through Hatha yoga has been aided largely by BKS Iyengar’s teachings. I learned akarna dhanurasana in the early years of my practice. Even though I’ve been able to do this posture from the beginning of my practice, only by doing it over and over was I able to understand the depth and strength that one can experience through the posture.
Akarna dhanurasana was initially referred to as dhanurasana in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The text says, “holding the toes with the hands, pull them up to the ears as if drawing a bow. This is called Dhanurasana.” As hatha yoga evolved over the centuries, the posture was renamed as akarna dhanurasana. The prefix ‘a’ expresses proximity to ‘karna,’ which is ‘ear’ in Sanskrit. The second word, dhanu means bow. The posture gives the impression of an archer who is pulling back his bowstring, ready to release an arrow, with the practitioner pulling the big toe to their ear like how one would pull on a bowstring.
To experience the full benefits of the posture, it should be practiced until one is able to do it effortlessly. Practicing akarna dhanurasana increases hip mobility, strengthens the arms and shoulders, and makes the legs very flexible. Contraction of the abdominal muscles while breathing normally through the posture improves abdominal organ function. Holding the posture gracefully and breathing effortlessly gives the true essence of the posture. The back is straight, the chest is uplifted and the elbow pulled back.
This could be a challenging posture for a beginner, so I recommend that you practice with a qualified teacher. Work on preparatory poses like baddha konasana, paschimottanasana, janu sirsasana, gomukhasana and hindolasana. Keep in mind the effort it takes to learn this posture. People with any kind of shoulder or hamstring injury or disc-related ailments in the neck and spine should avoid practising akarna dhanurasana.
Asana for Hip Mobility and Strength
Start in dandasana with your legs extended forward and feet flexed. Keep your chest lifted. Palms rest lightly on your thighs. Inhale and exhale here.
Inhale and as you exhale, move forward and hold your toes with your hands. Hold your toes with the index, middle finger and thumb of each hand. Inhale and lift your chest keeping your spine elongated and straight.
As you exhale, turn your body to the left and then move your left heel close to your groin. Fix your gaze on the big toe of the extended leg. Try to keep your elbow and knee close to the body to make the posture compact. If you’re a beginner, stay in this position till you are comfortable. Try to breathe normally. When you feel ready, you can move to the next step.
Inhale and raise your left foot bringing your left toe to your left ear — pulling the left elbow back. In this posture, imagine yourself pulling a bowstring with your left arm and think of your right big toe as the centre of the bow, through which you focus on the target. Hold for 5-10 breaths. To change sides, exhale and bring your left foot gently back next to your right foot and repeat steps 2-4 with your right leg lifted and your left leg extended. To exit the posture completely, exhale and bring both feet back together, release your grip on your big toe and inhale to come back to dandasana.
Chandraprakash R Naidu is a Bangalore-based Hatha Yoga teacher. For more information, follow him on @rcp_yoga