Let’s be real honest here, Standing Bow is one of the hardest postures in the Bikram/Hot yoga series. It’s right after Standing Head to Knee, which makes your heart rate skyrocket, and it’s the last of the 60 second postures…so it’s long. But like everything in yoga, what you put in the posture is what you get out of it, and the rewards are amazing.
This posture has looked drastically different for me over the years and I think it’s one of the easiest ways to see how frequently I’ve been practicing. If I’m practicing one day a week (like right now), I can barely kick my leg up. But if I’ve been practicing 3-4 times a week, I’m close to doing a standing split.
This example alone goes to show how powerful of a posture Standing Bow can be…they key is to work hard. So how do you find your version of “perfect” in this posture? Simply by focusing on your execution and alignment in the posture. Because perfection is of course, an allusion.
Focus on the Set Up
Keeping your knees together in the first part of this posture is key. I have a tight back and hip flexors, so when I first started practicing this posture I felt the stretch (and discomfort) long before I started kicking my leg out. This will also help you maintain alignment as you move through the posture, it’s common for people to let their knee and foot swing left or right in order to kick their leg higher. While this may be tempting to make your posture look “cooler”, please keep your hip, knee and ankle aligned for maximum benefits.
Relax the Hand that Holds Your Foot
While you need to use your strong finger tips to execute this posture, the actual palm of your hand should remain relaxed. This shift in thinking will help you focus on the kicking of the posture rather than “holding on” to your foot. The pressure that comes from kicking will help your foot stay in your hand!
Engage the Quad of Your Standing Leg, A Lot
You should feel this posture most in your legs, specifically the stretching along your hamstrings (great for those who aren’t naturally flexible) and in your quadricep, which should be fully engaged in order to protect your knee. I have found this engaging of the thigh helps tone my legs and protect my hamstrings as they stretch when leaning forward.
Inhale Deeply Before Kicking Your Leg
The set up is so important in Hatha yoga and this includes how we breathe. If you take a large breath before kicking your leg, you’ll find it’s easier to maintain the posture and withstand the increase in your heart rate.
Stay in the Posture Longer than You Want To
While it’s entirely acceptable to “fall out” of the posture, try to stay in longer than you want to. This takes some focused breath work (to allow you to actually stay in the posture) and a whole lot of mental perseverance. Try a little positive self talk while you’re setting up the posture, encouraging yourself to breathe, focus, and stay in the posture. Allowing yourself to stay in Standing Bow just a little bit longer will significantly increase your cardio stamina, help you lose weight, and quickly advance in the posture.
Flex Your Forward Arm
The arm that is reaching forward during the posture should be taught and engaged. This will help you create a counterforce to your kicking leg, and it will also help tone your arms, shoulders and even help you engage your core. Having a tight arm and engaged abdomen will make this posture much easier!
As always, Standing Bow and other Hatha yoga postures simply require practice. Show up to class as much as you can and work hard once you’re there. The benefits will continue to pour into your life, in the physical, mental and spiritual form.