If you've harboured secret desires of having the flexibility and grace of a ballet dancer, you'll love Dandayamana Dhanurasana.
Even if you're just looking for a more flexible lower back or an end to back pain, you'll love the sixth pose in the Bikram sequence, also known as Standing Bow pose.
The key to maximising the results from this pose is not just keeping your standing leg locked, it's about learning engage your lower back muscles and glutes to 'kick' your raised leg, whilst keeping your torso upright until your foot appears behind your head. Only then can you start to lower your torso; the full (and almost impossible) expression of the posture is to have your legs in standing splits and your torso parallel to the ground. Like I said, almost impossible.
But as long as you're engaging the right muscles, it doesn't matter if you're not quite producing Cirque du Soleil-level postures: you'll still be achieving the same results.
Dandayamana Dhanurasana: Step by Step
1. Stand with your toes and heels touching, and your arms by your sides. Shift your weight to your left leg, and keeping your knees together, bend your right leg so your heel is touching your hamstrings.
2. Raise your left arm straight above your head, with your palm facing the mirror. Ensure your bicep is tucked behind your ear; your elbow is locked and your fingers are fully extended.
3. The set-up of the grip of the foot is important: Turn your right elbow into your rib cage, so that your forearm is at a right-angle to your upper arm, and your palm is facing upwards.
4. Drop your arm downwards, without twisting the palm and grab the inside of your right foot, just above the ankle joint. Your hand should be holding the front, not the sole of your foot.
5. Inhale, contract your abs and glutes, and slowly begin to kick the right leg back and up. The first set is 60 seconds, and due to the intensity of the pose, it will feel twice as long- so take it slowly and don't rush into kicking as hard as you can.
6. Keep your gaze forward, left leg locked and keep kicking until you feel you've reached your maximum. You may feel the stretch in your inner thigh on your standing leg.
7. Keeping your hips level, slowly lower your torso until it is parallel to the ground and your fingers are eye-level in the mirror. It doesn't matter if your foot is not above your head, as long as you're kicking as hard as you can.
8. Exit the posture slowly, the same way you went in to it, and return to standing.
Dandayamana Dhanurasana: The benefits
'This posture really helps loosen up the lower back,' says Olga Allon, director of Hot Bikram Yoga in London. 'Having a flexible lower back actually helps make hamstring stretches easier. Two poses after Standing Bow comes a posture that will really stretch your hamstrings; doing Standing Bow at this point in the series helps loosen up the back to enable you to achieve a proper hamstring stretch.'
'Try not to get caught up with achieving full extension of the raised leg, or even get put off by the more flexible people in class. Instead, use your abs, glutes, and hamstrings and quads (of your standing leg) to maintain balance and give you space to concentrate when you're in your own full expression of the pose. Even if your leg isn't kicking very high; as long as you're kicking to your maximum, you're doing the pose properly.'