Why Can’t I Push Up Into Urdhva Dhanurasana?

August 3, 2021

Transcript below of: Why can’t I push up into urdhva dhanurasana?

Hey everybody! Welcome to this month’s question of the month. I’m here to answer them for you. So, if you’ve got one, go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion and we’ll try to get it on video as soon as possible. This month’s question of the month comes from Michela. It’s about how to push up into urdhva dhanurasana.

The Question:

“Good morning David,
Thank you for the great explanations and suggestions in your courses and articles. I have a question about [how to push up into] urdhva dhanurasana. After about 10 years of yoga practice (raja and hatha) and an RYT-200 training, I’m still not able to lift up completely in the pose. I have to keep my head on the floor because my arms haven’t the strength to lift me up. So I wonder first which muscles we involve to lift up in this pose, and then which poses/sequence I could use to strengthen them and be finally able to lift up one day. Have a nice day and weekend.”

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The Answer:

Okay, it’s a great question. It’s a question I answer quite clearly in my anatomy of backbends workshop, which isn’t on the website. But I do it now and then, even these days, doing it on Zoom.

The first thing I want to zero in on is the strength versus opening part. This is a common thing that happens. When something’s wrong, we assume that something’s weak and that therefore we need to strengthen something to make up for that weakness. This may not be a weakness thing at all. This may be a tightness thing.

Think front-opening

I’ll give you the basics from the workshop. Urdhva dhanurasana means upward facing bow pose. Some systems call backbending chakrasana, which means wheel. None of those say “backbending”. I make this distinction because words matter. And they lead you and your body to do certain things. When somebody says “backbending”, and you think oh, I need to do a deeper backbend, you try to shorten the muscles in your back. That’s what your body will do. But, backbending is really about front opening. And this is the most common reason that people cannot get their heads off the floor in backbending, or when they try to push up into urdhva dhanurasana.

You probably have the strength you need already

So, yes, I understand that it doesn’t feel like you have the strength in your arms to push up into urdhva dhanurasana. I’m not ignoring that part. There is a possibility that you do not have enough strength in your arms. But, I’m going to assume that you can do a push up. I don’t know, but I’ll just guess. That means that you probably have enough strength in your arms to lift your body weight, or half of your body weight I guess we could say.

But here’s the thing. When the front of your body isn’t open, in this case just guessing based on what I commonly see — I haven’t seen you try to do this so I don’t know — but typically what happens is that people have too much tension in their quadriceps and/or hip flexors. And then what happens is, that force, which is a resistance to lifting up in a backbend, is then added to the force, or resistance that your hands have to work against when you try to push up into urdhva dhanurasana. So you’re doubling it. One, you have your body weight. Two, you have the resistance of tissues on the front of your body that are loading a force into your hands and arms to make it even harder to lift up.

Open the hip flexors

So, what I’m going to suggest to you is, open the front of your body, hip flexors in particular. And then try to lift up. Alright? I know you asked for which muscles are involved. It doesn’t matter. Your body is already going to engage the ones that are needed. With respect to poses or sequence to open the front of the body, I’d do a modified virasana. That’s what I would say. You don’t need to do an hour-long sequence to open it up. Right before you go to do your backbends, you do virasana and try to lift your hips up. Focus on that. The quadriceps are the most common cause of resistance at the hip joint.

Alright everybody! If you’ve got a question that you want me to try to answer or ramble on about, you can go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion.