Wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) is a beautiful back bend that opens the whole front of your body and builds tremendous strength and flexibility in the spine, wrists, arms, chest, shoulders, hips, abdomen and quads.
Getting comfortable with the posture is a challenge though. At first, the sheer mechanics of it can seem daunting. You have to flex and work against gravity in a way your body isn’t used to. This makes wheel pose incredibly powerful and a great confidence boost when you can get into it.
The secret is to break the posture down into steps instead of trying to throw your body into the full asana in one go. With these three steps you build the strength and flexibility to achieve a safe, empowering Urdhva Dhanurasana.
Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
If you practice hot yoga or Vinyasa flow you will know this pose. Cobra begins face down, palms flat on the floor beneath your shoulders, elbows close to the body, legs pressed together all the way down to your heels and toes — contracted and firm like the tail of a cobra. You rise on the inhale, keeping your whole lower body tight and using your back muscles to lift your upper body as high as you can go while maintaining the breath. In preparation for wheel you can practice holding cobra for longer — 15, 20 or 30 seconds.
Bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
This asana activates your core and lower body to strengthen and stretch your spine. To begin, lie on your back and draw your knees up with your feet flat on the floor, about hip width apart. Press up from the four corners of your feet, engaging the legs and buttocks to lift the hips higher. If your knees start to splay gently bring them together to maintain hip-width distance. Press your arms and shoulders into the mat to lift the chest up and toward the chin.
Camel pose (Ustrasana)
Another core asana of hatha yoga, camel pose is a deep back bend and front-of-the-body opener. To begin, kneel with your knees about six inches apart, or slightly wider for a deeper stretch. Put your hands in your “back pockets” and release your spine backwards. Press your hips forward as you go back, then drop your hands and bring your palm to your heels, thumbs on the outside, fingers on the inside. Drop your head back for the full expression, remembering to breath in and out through your nose.
These three asanas, practiced in a sequence, build the foundation to achieve wheel pose. Stay tuned for my next post to learn how to master the final step!
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