When I first got serious about yoga, I would look at people doing wheel pose (sometimes called upward bow) and think, “That’s nice, but I won’t ever do that!” After surgery for breast cancer and a lifetime of scoliosis, many, including me, would have said this pose was not in my future.
My chest was on lockdown after a bout with breast cancer, and many more bouts with life. I had been a shallow breather for decades. I was holding so much stress and tension in my chest I could hardly breathe by the time I committed to a regular practice. After starting a regular yoga practice of both asana and pranayama, my breathing started to become deeper, and my body became stronger and more flexible.
The first time I attempted and somewhat ungracefully completed upward-facing bow is forever etched into my mind. I’ll never forget the place, the time, and the feeling of complete exhilaration, along with a deep release in my chest. This was followed by an outpouring of tears and the feeling of becoming lighter as the cells in my chest were being freed of the samskaras — energetic imprints that get stuck in the cells of the body — of the past. As time has passed, my back now bends a little bit more and the gracefulness of this pose begins to show itself through my body.
Today there are no more tears upon rising into upward bow; there are only feelings of strength and flexibility, a knowledge that I'm stronger than I could have imagined back then. I'm more flexible in my approach, and I'm more able to be in the flow of life, living with a joy and an ease that had somehow been lost. This has become one of my favorite poses, and without a doubt it's one of the most beautiful and elegant. Requiring a balance of flexibility, strength, and courage, it can produce feelings of exhilaration.
Yoga is the process of putting ourselves back together after life has torn us apart. I became more whole that day in that moment of triumph. Yoga gives us so many opportunities to know ourselves better, to free ourselves from the past, and to be in the here and now — the only true moment. Some are subtle and others not so much, but as we continue to journey, yoga continues to offer us what we need to heal and to live fully in every moment, remembering all the while that it's the journey, not the destination, where the magic happens.
You've probably heard the expression “bending over backwards” in reference to a situation that requires an excessive amount of effort. Similarly, many people find this backbend challenging. Going up in this pose requires a certain amount of strength, and sometimes the student can tighten up and stop breathing. It's always a good idea to warm the body up with a beginning series before attempting this pose. Staying as relaxed as possible also helps.
Take a few moments to set up and breathe deeply, relaxing the facial muscles, the jaw, and softening the gaze. Then tilt the pelvis; finally, move into the pose with softness. It's important to stay in an easy and receptive place when doing a harder pose like Upward-Facing Bow. By doing so, the student can practice self-compassion and openness to whatever comes. Maintaining softness in attitude will allow you to enjoy the pose and the benefits no matter where you end up in the pose.