Wheel pose is an exhilarating backbend that seduces me every time that I come to the mat. The pose’s progression means that beginners can access it by learning it in stages — or by practicing it with blocks. More advanced students can introduce variations that make this playful backbend challenging and fun. Wheel pose is categorised as a symmetrical backward-bending arm support pose. It’s sanskrit name-Urdvha dhanurasana-means upward facing wheel pose—and guess what – Dhanurasana is a woman! In this tutorial I’m going to cover the who, what, why, and how of wheel pose. You will learn wheel pose anatomy, the key actions and benefits of wheel pose, how to improve your wheel and how to practice this backbend with props and blocks. Are you ready? Let’s wheel.
What is wheel pose
Wheel pose is an exquisite backbend that maximizes the extension of the spine, opens the hips through extension and internal rotation, and strengthens your shoulder stabilizers. Wheel pose is a butt-and thigh workout – as the hamstrings and glutes are recruited to extend the hips. Strengthening and toning the inner thighs takes place through the adductor magnus muscle, which does what it says — it adducts and internally rotates the thighs. As we work to prevent hyperextension in our lower backs, we also tone the belly and improve the coordination of our abs with other muscles of the legs and trunk. One of my favorite benefits of wheel pose is that repeated practice causes the spine and abs to fall back. (Without sucking in the belly).
The benefits of wheel pose are best understood in relation to its three key actions.
Better posture through extension of the spine
The deep backbend in this asana (yoga pose) means that you are extending the spine from a flexed position. When you have access to that range of motion, you are forcing the middle and lower back to extend from its natural curve. The benefits of a flexible spine are too numerous to mention but I’ll name a few. Good posture means that you are not slouching, which compresses the lungs and other vital organs. This balance translates to improved breathing, better organ function, a strong, active core and relaxed hamstrings and calves which stave off lower back pain.
All around better athletic performance through strengthening, stabilizing the shoulders
A few turns with wheel and you’ll be declaring your right to bare arms. To perform wheel pose the biceps and deltoids must work to flex the shoulders. The rotation and elevation of the scapula become more efficient through the contraction of the serratus anterior – the muscle that supports strong planks, push ups, handstand and buttery chatarungas. The serratus anterior contributes to better overall shoulder health and improved breathing as it helps the rib cage to expand. When the serratus anterior is weak our necks perform actions for which they are not designed. This can result in the shortening and weakening of the neck muscles, which is a precursor to chronic neck pain. Because the serratus anterior is responsible for the upward and external rotation of the scapula – building this muscle will improve your tennis game, golf game, swim time,
cycling posture — anything that has to do with your arms and shoulders.
Elongation of the hips and legs through extension and movement of the hips toward the midline
This pose stretches, strengthens and improves mobility in the hips and lower limbs. This makes for happy hips and also leads to an improved relationship between other parts of your body. Most of us sit all day long – with our hips in artificial flexion, which shortens our hip flexors. This has a damaging effect on the position and movement of the pelvis and lower back. Wheel pose requires full extension of the hip joint and hip adduction. Because this is in contradiction to our modern sedentary lives, this action can be quite challenging but rewarding if you keep it up. I will show you how to use a yoga block to assist with the squeezing action of the hips, which is key to maintaining alignment in this pose.
How to wheel pose
Urdvha dhanurasana is difficult but the good news is that yogis of all levels can do its variations. Practicing wheel pose as a progression will enable you to perform each key action with the right amount of effort and ease.
Breaking down the asana by each of its key actions, and practice “svadhayaya” the yogic concept of self-study in each phase will enable you to build up the skill, strength and stamina more quickly than if you were to hurry through to the more advanced actions in a rush to the summit. My advice is to practice wheel pose each day as part of your daily yoga practice. If wheel pose is your peak pose, dedicate a page in your yoga journal and note the differences in the challenges you face each day as you progress through the stages.
Through your journal, you will be able to determine which joints, muscles need extra attention and focus; and can incorporate the yoga poses that are needed to awaken and stabilize these areas. In this asana clinics, I will be focusing on the preparatory poses for wheel pose, so this can be one source for you to dissect what simpler poses need to be mastered, to make your wheel pose more effortless! I only truly learned this pose during the asana clinics at my yoga teacher training in Thailand.
Wheel pose with props
If full wheel is not available to you right now because of tightness in your hips, quadriceps or shoulders I demonstrate below the wheel pose with a bolster and blocks. I also provide a link in the resource section of this post where you can find a good instructional on wheel pose with props and blocks.
I hope you enjoyed this wheel pose tutorial. If so, please like and share! The wheel pose is the first peak pose I will do in the asana clinic/yoga tutorials. In the following weeks I will give tutorials on poses you need to master in order to wheel pose like a boss. Until later – practice on!