Should You Contract Or Relax The Glutes In Urdhva Dhanurasana?

January 8, 2019

Transcript of: Should you contract or relax the glutes in urdhva dhanurasana?

Hello everybody! Welcome to this month’s question of the month. And of course, you can submit your own. Go to and we’ll try to get to it. So, this month’s question is about whether to contract or relax the glutes in urdhva dhanurasana and the question comes from Claudia.

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The Question:

“Hello David,

I have been taught that when doing urdhva dhanurasana, urdhva mukha, and so on… not to contract my gluteus [maximus]. Have them relax, especially [in] urdhva dhanurasana to focus on mula bandha when coming up. During more than a year in physiotherapy, and sharing the movements of my practice with them, their point of view is that gluteus [maximus] should be contracted prior lifting to backbend, and during the backbend to stabilize the pelvis. What is your opinion? I have always had this doubt.

Thank you,

The Answer:

Whether to contract or relax the glutes in urdhva dhanurasana is a great question. And the question is, to squeeze or not to squeeze, that is the question. And I do believe I wrote an article with that title, in particular. So, it tells me you didn’t do much digging on the website, there, Claudia. There are two camps on this subject: squeeze, not squeeze.

Find the middle ground

I tend to take the middle path with these things. Tension is one thing. Total contraction is another thing. Out-of-control contraction is something else completely. To put that into context, at the moment, everybody is gluteus-focused. It used to be everybody would talk about piriformis as basically the cause of everybody’s problems in their buttocks and low back and everywhere. And then it was the psoas for a while. You know, both of those two muscles are important. At the moment, everything is gluteus-focused. Everybody thinks you need strong glutes, strong glutes, strong glutes. Okay, you don’t need weak glutes. That’s not helpful. But, everything is meant to be in balance. That’s the thing. And that can change from person to person.

So, in this case, whether it’s upward facing dog or backbending (and this is what I start off with), you should have control of your glutes. If you can relax them and you can contract them, if you can choose to do either of those things in any of those postures, then you have control, you have balance. Why don’t you assume that your body will then turn on what it needs to, rather than forcing it to do something?

Consider back pain or SI joint issues

Okay, if you have back pain or some other issue going on where it feels better when you contract, then contract. If you have SI joint problems let’s say, and when you go into a backbend, if you relax the buttocks you feel the pressure and it starts to get irritated and you turn the glutes on and it stabilizes them, then you should be contracting them. But, I’ve had people who are the exact opposite. They have SI joint problems, let’s say, and they’re squeezing their glutes really tightly, but when they relax them, the SI joint feels better. So, whether to contract or relax the glutes in urdhva dhanurasana or upward dog is on an individual basis.

These categorical statements about whether to contract or relax the glutes in urdhva dhanurasana, glutes on, glutes off, are really much more nuanced. And that’s what we try to do here at YogAnatomy, peel back a layer and get past the really simple answer. There is no simple answer because the anatomy is complicated and the yoga is complicated. As much as we can, we want to individualize the practice.

Okay? I hope that helps. Go look up that article, To Squeeze Or Not To Squeeze, and I’ll see you guys next month.

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