HOW TO PRACTICE Full Wheel Pose IN YOGA (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Benefits, How to Instructions, Modifications, and Common Alignment Mistakes for Full Wheel Pose
Upward Bow Pose (Sanskrit name: Urdhva Dhanurasana), which is often referred to as Full Wheel Pose, is a striking and powerful backbending yoga posture both to look at and to practice. It requires a great deal of preparation, body-awareness—and a particular shoulder joint structure—to master.
Because of the many challenges of this yoga pose, many students have a love/hate relationship with this quintessential backbend. To practice Urdhva Dhanurasana comfortably and without spinal misalignment or undue low-back tension, several prerequisites should be fulfilled:
- Flexible quadricep and hip flexor muscles–The muscles on the front of the thigh and hips need to be flexible enough to allow you to lengthen into the asana.
- A thoracic spine with normal kyphosis (upper-back curve) and shoulder joints that allow for the arms to be vertical in the yoga posture.
- Arm, shoulder and leg strength sufficient to support the body weight in the yoga pose. The amount of strength needed depends on the previous two qualities.
The key to practicing Wheel Pose with ease is to focus on creating even sensation through the body. Distribute the load equally between your legs and arms in order to create length in the spine. Use all the muscles of the back—upper and lower—to create your arch.
In order to attempt Full Wheel Pose safely, your body must be limber and your muscles prepped for lengthening the entire front of the body: from hips and thighs to arms and chest. A good way to both prepare and test your body’s readiness for the full yoga pose is to do a few milder backbends, such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), prior to pressing up into Full Wheel Pose.
Benefits of Full Wheel Pose
Urdhva Dhanurasana is an essential asana for spinal extension, lengthening the spine and deeply stretching the shoulders, chest, and abdomen.
Full Wheel Pose also strengthens the entire back body, including the muscles along the spine and through the back, shoulders, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles.
This yoga posture is also very stimulating to energy levels. Performing Full Wheel Pose in a morning class can give you an energetic boost to last the whole day. Performing Full Wheel Pose in the evening can have the effect of a shot of caffeine!
Basic Full Wheel Pose
- Lie on your back on a nonskid yoga mat with the soles of your feet flat on the floor underneath your knees, hips-width apart and parallel. Bend your elbows and place your hands just above your shoulders with your fingertips pointing toward your body.
- Spread your fingers and press your palms down firmly. Energetically hug your elbows toward the sides of your head. (Rotating your hands slightly outward can help you keep your elbows at shoulders-width apart as you move into Upward Bow.) Draw your elbows back and draw down through your armpits, letting your shoulder blades slide on your back.
- Inhale and press firmly down into the four corners of your feet and begin to lift your hips off the mat into a mini-bridge. Exhale and pause. On your next inhale press into your arms and shift your body weight toward your feet as you continue to carefully lift your body off the floor.
- Isometrically hug your elbow tips toward one another and draw your upper arm bones back into their sockets and shoulder blades onto your back. Maintaining that shoulder integration, push down into the four corners of your feet and evenly through the palms of your hands and straighten your arms, bringing yourself into your full expression of Wheel Pose.
- After a few rounds of breath, slowly begin to re-bend your elbows and tuck your chin toward your chest and lower your torso back to the floor. Rest for a few breaths.
It can be helpful to come in and out of this backbending yoga pose several times as a warmup. It can take a few repetitions for the body to feel more open and relaxed in the asana.