Wheel Pose is a beautiful expression of opening the heart and harnessing the strength of the body as the whole. Many of us spontaneously busted out this pose as children, before our bodies became stiff from stress and sedentary lifestyles.
Now, this pose can present a great challenge. For some, that challenge is mental. We tell ourselves, "my body can't do that." For others, the challenge is physical. People with chronic back or shoulder pain can find Wheel Pose quite difficult.
My advice to all yogis is to never put a pose in your "impossible file." As soon as we take a pose off the table, we stop ourselves from doing the work necessary to prove ourselves wrong. True, this might be a pose that takes a lot of time and practice, but it is definitely worth the wait.
Give your body the time and space to build strength, and warm up properly each time you attempt Wheel. Here are six yoga poses to help you prepare for Wheel Pose.
1. Shoulder Opening Twist
Wheel utilizes a lot of the body's muscles but also engages sensitive areas of the body, like the shoulders. To make sure the shoulders are nice and open, I like to start with this pose.
Lie on your belly with your right arm outstretched in a T-shape. Bring the left hand next to the left ear so the elbow is bent 90 degrees. Then, roll onto your right side, kicking the left foot back and placing it on the floor next to the right buttock. You should feel the stretch in the right shoulder. Next, practice on the left side.
2. Plank Pose
This is the perfect pose to fire up the core and build strength in the arms. From the belly, place the hands under the shoulders, and push up to straight arms. You want the body to be in one, long line.
This may mean raising or lowering the tail slightly so the back is not arching or sagging. Engage the core and hold for 5-10 breaths.
3. Sphinx Pose
Still on the belly, place the elbows under the shoulders, hugging the biceps into your body. Gently elevate your chest, engaging the core and thighs to support the lower back. Hold for five breaths, taking multiple rounds if your back is very tight.
4. Low Lunge with Backbend
Take low lunge by standing at the top of the mat and stepping the right foot to the back of the mat, keeping the feet hip distance apart. Bend into your left knee. Interlace your fingers behind your tailbone and start to pull the hands down.
Lean back slightly, tilting the head skyward. Engage the core here to prevent back strain. Practice on both sides.
5. Camel Pose
This pose engages much of the same muscles groups as Wheel but does not require the same upper body strength. Sitting high on bent knees, with legs hip-distance apart, reach both arms out in front of you as if reaching for something in the distance. Begin to lean back slowly, keeping control in the core.
If possible, bring the hands to the lower back. If this is comfortable, try reaching the hands to the heels. Tilt the head back slightly, using the neck to support it. Push the hips forward by engaging the thighs.
Come out of this pose very slowly and transition through table to center the spine before taking Child's Pose.
6. Bridge Pose
This is the typical prep pose for Wheel. Lying on your back, bend the knees and place the soles of the feet a few inches away from the bum, making sure you can touch heels with fingers.
Gently begin to raise your hips, supporting the back by engaging core and thighs. If available, interlock the hands under the tailbone. Start to roll the shoulders under to raise the hips a bit more. Hold for three breaths.
You can also practice Bridge with a block under the tail bone as a means to achieve wonderful opening in the front body. Take three rounds of bridge at any level to prepare for Wheel.
As always in a yoga asana practice, be very mindful and respectful of your body. It's very easy to tweak your lower back in Wheel Pose if you're not properly warmed up, or fail to support your back with the other muscles of the body.
However, when successfully achieved, Wheel offers incredible feelings of openness, strength, and confidence. Happy Wheeling!