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The Archer

Exploring Akarna Dhanurasana - Archer Pose - By Diane Ashfield

Reading time: 4 minutes

If I were to ask you to name a celebrated archer, you might instantly think of Robin Hood – the legendary bowman who, along with his band of Merry Men, took from the rich to give to the poor and fought for justice against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.  Chances are you would be hard pressed to think of somebody else famed for their archery skills, but there is another bowman steeped in myth, legend and adventure.

Long before Sherwood Forest became the epicentre of hooded outlaws equipped with bows and arrows, an epic battle was about to take place.  In The Bhagavad Gita - an ancient 2,000 year-old Hindu scripture - Prince Arjuna deliberates going to war against the cousins he grew up with.  Arjuna was an accomplished archer, so much so, that he was bestowed an indestructible divine bow – called Gandiva – created by the supreme being Brahman and presented to Arjuna by Varuna, the God of the Seas.  On the eve of battle, and tormented by the advent of slaughtering his own kinsmen, Arjuna’s trusted friend and charioteer Krishna advises him through the wisdom of yoga to honour his duties by seeking self-mastery and inner peace.  Through yoga and Krishna’s teachings, Arjuna discovers what it means to be human as well as the true nature and workings of the universe.

Archer pose – Akarna Dhanurasana – is an adventurous posture representing strength, courage and determination; determination being a key factor with this challenging pose as it’s not a particularly easy asana to master.

In Sanskrit, “akarna” means “towards the ear” and “dhanu” means “bow,” so sitting with one leg stretched out and the other bent with the foot drawing close to the ear, Akarna Dhanurasana resembles an archer discharging an arrow from a bow.  However, getting into this position requires a certain amount of flexibility and a degree of patience, so, as always, we warm up the muscles and joints required to enable us to practice safely.  Warm-ups for Archer might include hamstring stretches with a belt along with hip opening exercises such as Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana) and Baddha Konasana (Cobbler/Butterfly Pose) to loosen and stretch the pelvic area.


A fabulous warm up for Archer Pose is a supine version - an ideal pre-cursor to the main event.  Lie comfortably on your back with both knees bent, draw the right leg towards the chest, catch the toes with the right hand (or use a belt) and then stretch your leg up towards the ceiling.  Bring the left leg into half happy baby (Ardha Ananda Balasana) by drawing the left knee towards the chest, lifting up the foot and placing your left hand on the inside of the foot or take hold of the ankle, then encourage the knee towards the armpit or the floor on an exhalation, keeping the left shin vertical if possible.  Stay here for a few deep, easy breaths, noticing how that feels for the hips, glutes and the hamstrings, then slowly release and repeat on the other side.

If you felt comfortable practicing the supine version, then you may feel confident with progressing into the full seated Archer Pose.

Begin sitting in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with both legs stretched out ahead and with the spine long and tall.  Notice how that feels for the hamstrings – you could roll up a blanket or towel and place under the knees if the muscles feel tight.  You could also sit on a blanket, block or cushion to slightly elevate the hips if that feels more comfortable.  Bend the left knee and place the sole of the foot on the mat.  Breathe in and as you exhale fold forward and catch hold of the toes on the right leg with the right hand (or use a belt if preferred) whilst hooking your left index finger around the big toe on the left foot.  Slowly breathe and lift your torso back upright whilst lifting the left leg, keeping the knee bent and gently encouraging the left foot back towards the left ear.  Hold the pose for five to ten breaths, keeping your gaze (Drishti) towards the outstretched toes, then slowly release, stretch out anything that feels good to re-set the muscles and then repeat on the other side.

Archer Pose can reduce stiffness and improve flexibility in the hips, it stretches the hamstrings, builds on core strength and can help to strengthen the arm muscles and shoulders.  Archer isn’t recommended for anyone experiencing any spinal or abdominal issues or during pregnancy.

When exploring Archer Pose, take your time, enjoy the journey and don’t let the full posture become an obsession.  It’s great to have a target to aim for with our arrows, but as with all legendary bowmen and women, it takes time, patience and plenty of practice to hit the bullseye every time.



Diane Ashfield

Diane Ashfield (aka Yoga With Dash) is a British Wheel of Yoga instructor, teaching in the London Borough of Bromley.