Dhanurasana, or Bow Pose, is a fantastic back-bending pose for opening the chest and shoulders and strengthening the back. This pose is challenging as it reminds how important the legs are in back-bending poses. In addition to the strength in the back required for backbends, there is even more strength required in the legs, particularly the quadriceps. Dhanurasana will help build the strength needed for Urdhva Dhanurasana, Upward Bow Pose, and Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana and eventually drop backs. The strength in your legs will keep you from relying too much on a flexible spine and will help avoid straining the back as you attempt the more advanced backbends.
There are some variations you can work with as you practice this pose. One variation is Ardha Dhanurasana, Half Bow Pose. Practice both sides of the Bow Pose separately. This effort will give some insight into which side of the body is weaker and where. Is your leg weaker or perhaps your shoulder? Take time to observe the differences on either side of the body.
Another variation often taught in Iyengar Yoga classes is to place a blanket underneath the hip bones in the front of the body, as shown in the picture to the right. This is a wonderful way to experience more freedom in the chest when practicing this pose. To strengthen the legs, continue practicing Setu Bhanda Sarvangasana, Bridge Pose, Chaturanga Dandasana, Four-Limbed Staff Pose, Purvottanasana, and Salabhasana, Locust Pose.
Finally, Dhanurasana is a wonderful pose to practice with another yogi. This pose is taught in the series of poses practiced in Traditional Thai Massage and is best demonstrated by an experienced practitioner first. Find playful ways to practice this pose as David Life and Sharon Gannon have demonstrated below in this photograph by David Martinez.
Listen to the Pronunciation of Dhanurasana. Courtesy of the Online Sanskrit Pronunciation Guide[audio:http://www.ihanuman.com/media/audio/Sanskrit/Asanas/Dhanurasana.mp3]