Remember when you were a child, and you loved to push up into a Wheel Pose without thinking twice about it? Now, it requires a little more effort and preparation in order to feel that same accomplishment. The Wheel Pose, also known as Urdhva Dhanurasana in Sanskrit, which means “Upward-facing Bow,” is a more advanced pose, as it stretches the entire body.
It requires you to have strength in your arms, legs, core and requires the Yogi to be flexible. In order to be able to reach this full backbend, you need to have proper alignment and need to build-up the flexibility and strength required.
Making sure to have an open back and open shoulders is a key so that you are not using force to push your body up and risk exposing yourself to an injury. With that, we have selected some key poses to help you prepare for your next step in accomplishing Wheel Pose.
Cobra, also known as Bhujangasana, allows the back to bend; and, strengthens and stretches the muscles in the core, the arms and the shoulders. It also helps create a supple spine and condition your upper torso for backbends.
To practice this pose, lie on your chest with your legs stretched out. Engage the muscles in your thighs, buttocks, and calves, then lift off your head and chest pushing up with your arms. Eye gaze should be tilted upward, and your shoulders should be away from your ears.
The Camel Pose or Ustrasana is similar to the Cobra Pose. It stretches out the thigh muscles, but also creates great flexibility in the spine; it opens up the entire front of the body. It is a great pose to move to once you have done a few cobras to warm up.
Begin in a kneeling position, push up and keep your thighs hip-width apart and push your hips forward, while supporting your back with your hands. Then, carefully reach back one hand at a time to touch the heels of your feet.
Also known as Dhanurasana, this is another great pose to aid in strengthening your thighs and increasing flexibility in your spine. Since the Bow Pose is actually quite similar to the Wheel Pose, you’re one step closer to your end goal.
Lay on your belly and bend your knees so that your toes are pointing up to the ceiling. Reach back with each hand and grab onto the outer ankles of each foot. Breathe in and lift your chin and chest off the mat.
Now that we have worked on the flexibility of the back in the last few poses, we can focus a bit on strengthening the quadriceps muscles of the leg. This pose also creates balance and core awareness, a key factor when wanting to perform a Wheel Pose.
Begin in a lunge position and lower your legs to the floor, maintaining your posture. On the floor, push your hips toward the front of the mat to deepen the stretch in your quad. Switch to the other side.
Now that you have increased strength and flexibility, let’s move onto the Bridge Pose, or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, the pose that will lead you directly into a Wheel Pose. Build up confidence through this pose as it helps build core strength, lengthens the spine and strengthens the quad muscles.
Lie on your back with legs brought up so that the heels are close to the buttocks. Engage both to lift off with the hips into the air, pressing the arms and shoulders into the earth.
Once you feel you have gained enough strength and flexibility to move forward, you can move straight into a Wheel Pose. Turn your hands over so that your palms are right by your ears. To begin, you can push up and rest on your head until you feel ready to push up farther.
Once you have mastered the Wheel Pose with both legs firmly on the ground, you can choose to go to another level by lifting one leg off and holding it in the air for a more advanced pose.
Remember, in order to have enough strength and flexibility to reach a Wheel Pose, you will want to focus on practicing poses that will open and strengthen the thighs, add flexibility to the spine, stretch and strengthen the chest and shoulders. Keep practicing, and you will get there.