Urdhva Dhanurasana (sometimes known as Chakrasana), is popularly known as the Wheel Pose, although the literal translation is “bow facing upward.” It is one of those basic poses that all yoga lovers do. In the pose, the entire body looks like a rainbow.
It’s a rich pose that has numerous benefits and can be a lot of fun to do, but most of us lack the flexibility in our shoulders, and the strength, to be able to press our arms completely straight. This means that instead of looking like an arch looking up, we end up looking a bit more like a rectangle looking up.
Fortunately, we can still reap many of the benefits of the bent elbows and knees pose. Remembering that the overall goal is to lengthen the spine and open up the chest, there are a number of ways we can use props or alternate ways to achieve those same effects without compromising our lower back.
How to do wheel pose
- We will lie on our back with our feet hip-width apart and bend our knees.
- We will extend the arms above the head and bend the elbows, placing the palms of the hands on the ground next to the ears, with the fingers pointing forward.
- On an inhalation, we will raise the hips.
- We will exhale and pause.
- We will inhale, pressing with the hands and we will try to pause with the crown of the head on the ground and the elbows bent. If when pressing straight arms we notice tension in the neck or lower back, we will stop here.
- We will stretch our arms and legs as much as we can. Some people find it helpful to walk with your feet back toward your head. We will check the lower back after any adjustments we make
- To lower, we will slightly tuck in the chin, bend the elbows and support the crown again.
- We will lower completely to the back of the head and lower the arms to the sides.
Wheel Pose falls into the category of poses known as backbends, which are poses performed with the spine in extension. This family of poses is said to be beneficial because it opens the heart and chest, helping us breathe deeper. They are also believed to stimulate the adrenal glands.
Chakrasana, or Urdhva Dhanurasana, also offers a deep stretch to the chest and shoulder muscles, as well as the hip flexors. It also strengthens the hamstrings and spinal extensors. Beyond that, there are other science-backed benefits of wheel posture.
- Improves the flexibility of the spine . One study found that incorporating wheel pose and similar backbends into a yoga routine significantly improved the spinal flexibility of participants over the age of 50.
- Increases strength . In just 12 weeks, study participants showed significant improvements in muscle strength after practicing wheel pose and other Hatha yoga poses.
- It can improve blood glucose levels among people with type 2 diabetes. A recent study found that backbends lowered hemoglobin A1c levels in people with diabetes.
The most beneficial poses in yoga are often the ones with the most risks. As such, what really makes us advanced in yoga is not so much the physical requirements, but the level of care you need to take when doing them.
It may be best to stick to a less demanding variation if you experience lower back pain , carpal tunnel syndrome, high blood pressure, injury, or shoulder instability, such as a history of dislocation.
Note that deep backbends, or any pose with excessive spinal extension, are generally contraindicated after the second trimester of pregnancy , as it can contribute to diastasis recti.
Although Wheel Pose is an invigorating asana for the body and mind, it is not the easiest pose to adopt and can cause injury if performed incorrectly.
Don’t arch your back
If we spend most of the day sitting, whether it’s writing for hours at a desk or participating in a sport like cycling that causes us to slouch, this can result in poor flexibility of the thoracic spine (middle back). Due to the increased roundness of the spine, it can be difficult for us to arch our back during wheel pose.
Fundamental yoga poses, such as downward facing dog and cat-cow, are excellent and effective mobility exercises that promote chest extension as well as chest and shoulder opening.
Low back pain
Lower back pain can be the result of both the hip flexors and quads being tight as they are connected to the pelvis (hip bones). During Wheel Pose, the pelvis is in an anterior tilt, which causes a more pronounced arch in the lower back.
So if we feel pain in the lower back while in this pose, try stretches that are geared toward stretching the hips, hamstrings, and quads.
Stretching your hips and quads regularly can improve hip mobility, which is not only an important key to unlocking various yoga poses, but can also release tension in both your lower back and core of the groin
Poses like pigeon, crescent lunge, wide-legged forward bend, alligator, and downward facing dog are also great for opening the hips and also strengthen the legs and help us prepare for wheel pose.
Supporting body weight may seem easy, but it is not always the case, especially if we lack strength in certain areas. For example, while practicing the wheel, if we lack strength in the core, arms or quads, we can unload weight on the wrists.
Also, because we spend so much time throughout the day typing, texting, typing, and driving, our wrists are used to bending forward without additional weight being put on them. But in wheel pose, our wrists are bent back and support half of our body weight, so it makes sense if you experience wrist pain while doing the wheel.
The way to combat this is to strengthen the whole body. Poses like plank, cobra, reverse plank, and warrior II are a good place to start. Of course, there are also daily wrist exercises that can be done to build strength in the wrists, such as wrist rotations on your mat, wrist squeezing and releasing, and wrist flexing and extending.
arms not extended
If you notice that it is difficult for you to straighten your arms while practicing the wheel pose, it is likely that you lack flexibility in your shoulders. It’s also another reason why you may experience wrist pain, as lack of flexibility in your shoulders causes your body to overcompensate and put weight on your wrists.
To help increase shoulder flexibility, we’ll practice more heart-opening poses such as inverted plank, fish pose, camel pose, cobra pose, lobster pose, puppy pose, and cat-cow pose. However, if we are also experiencing wrist pain, we will practice the dolphin pose or the forearm plank.