Yoga poses build off one another to prepare the mind and body for advanced postures. Some add strength, others add stretch, and a few may just help prepare the mind. One-Legged Wheel pose, or eka pada urdhva dhanurasana, is a literal extension of urdhva dhanurasana (also called Wheel pose). This advanced backbend builds on Wheel pose by adding the challenge of having one leg extended up into the air, keeping the body flexible and the mind open.
One-legged Wheel pose offers many benefits. In its full expression, the entire front body is stretched, and the arms, wrists, glutes legs, spine and abdominal muscles are strengthened. The backbend is also energizing and the one-legged variation creates an asymmetry that challenges, and over time may improve, your balance.
Preparing for this backbend balance requires patience to build strength and flexibility, as well as a good warm up for the body. Try out the poses below to build up the body and mind for this posture, and be sure to warm up with Sun Salutations before practicing.
1. Cow Face Pose
Gomukhasana is a great place to start gently stretching the hips, thighs and ankles in the lower body and the chest, shoulders, triceps and deltoids in the upper body. This pose will give the shoulders and hips the stretch they need to go deeper.
2. One-Legged Tadasana
Extending one leg away from the body may feel weird at first. Practice standing in Tadasana and lif the knee toward the chest, keeping the hands on the hips. Once you have your balance, straighten the leg and kick out, extending and flexing the toes.
Avoid leaning back, and instead, engage the abdominals to maintain an upright stance. Practice this on each side, and begin to become aware of what happens in the rest of the body. This will help you explore the feeling of extending the leg and finding balance.
3. Upward Facing Dog
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana shares the urdhva, or upward facing, motion in the front body that mirrors One-Legged Wheel pose. Having a strong Upward Dog is a grounded way to build strength in the wrists, arms, abdominal muscles and quads.
4. Camel Pose
Camel pose builds from Upward Facing Dog by deepening the backbend and simultaneously stretching the hips, shoulders, and chest. This pose will also help you get used to the traction, or the bend with gravity, that you also have in one-legged wheel pose.
5. Upward Plank/ One-Legged Upward Plank
Upward Plank stretches the chest and the deltoids, while giving a nice stretch in the front body. It also helps to prepare the wrists for the same hand placement in one-legged wheel.
Upward Plank is a great pose to explore extending one leg up. Extending one leg prepares you to take that extra step forward. The pose is also good for strengthening the quadriceps, which play a key role in achieving One-Legged Wheel pose.
6. Bow Pose
Also called Dhanurasana, Bow pose is a leverage backbend that uses the arms to deepen the backbend. This pose also stretches the chest, shoulders, and thighs. It gives you the similar movement of Wheel, but in the opposite direction.
7. Bridge Pose/ One-Legged Bridge Pose
Bridge pose puts allows you to get used to working from the floor up. It also stretches the chest, shoulders and thighs. Bridge is also a common way to enter Wheel pose, and is a great platform to explore before building into One-Legged Wheel pose.
Keep the trend of extending the leg out but coming into One-Legged Bridge. Place your hands to your low back for extra support, or maintain the hands as you did in Bridge pose.
8. Wheel Pose
In order to put the ‘eka pada’ in urdhva dhanurasana, you must feel comfortable in Wheel pose. Work on being safely aligned in this foundational backbend before lifting the leg. They key is to find relaxation in the pose that allows you to calmly stabilize, balance, and allow yourself to go higher by extending one leg.
Eka pada urdhva dhanurasana is a visually stunning pose that doesn’t stand on its own. Accessing the pose requires appropriate warm up and preparatory poses to build strength and flexibility. It also embodies the many poses that help you build up to achieve it.
Lift the leg slowly, and focus on how it feels in your body. Remember, how high you can lift the leg up isn’t the primary focus here, but rather how the body feels balanced and your mind confident. If the pose isn’t accessible to you yet, try another pose that builds up to it. With patience and practice, you will build your pose.
Image credit: Alissa Kepas