Practicing Wheel Yoga (Yoga with a wheel as a prop) really helped me to deepen my exercise in a lot of ways, from improving my backbends to enhancing my balance in a regular class. That’s why I wanted to share my experience with some of the benefits of Wheel Yoga.
First of all, it’s a perfect way to improve backbends and eliminate any hunch in the back. There are exercises which target the lower back region as well as exercises which target the upper back region. Especially rolling your spine back on the wheel from a seated position is extremely beneficial for overall back agility. If you roll back until your shoulders touch down to the floor lower back agility will be improved. To deepen this exercise even more the arms can be stretched over the head and legs to the front while sinking the hip down.
As I was suffering from a hunch in the upper back in a lot of forward folds I especially used Wheel Yoga to eliminate this hunch. Perfectly suited for this is an exercise where you grab the wheel with both of your hands by bringing the hands behind the upper back and then roll the spine back on the wheel. Ideally the forearms, elbows and head should touch down to the floor, while the wheel is placed at the upper back.
In both of these exercises your spine gets as a side effect a nice massage and your chest is widely opened.
Ardha Chakrasana (Half Wheel Pose) and Tiryaka Tadasana (Swaying Palm Tree Pose) can also be deepened through the use of a wheel, when the wheel is held by both hands in both the pose. Doing the pose like this is however quite tough even for experienced yogis.
Wheel Yoga also helped me to improve my overall balance, through doing standing postures on the Wheel (before doing this the wheel has to be locked by e.g. block to prevent the wheel from rolling). I first started with simple pose like only standing on the wheel with two and then one leg and the advanced to real asanas like Virabhadrasana C (Warrior 3), Vrkasana (Tree Pose) or even Natarajasana (Dancer Pose).
In seated forward folds, like Ardha Baddha Konasana (Forward fold from Butterfly Pose) or Janu Sirasana, I use a wheel to lengthen my spine more and thus to go deeper into the pose.
A wheel can be used in a lot of other ways too, but it will always deepen and enhance your yogic experience!
Soon after I started Yoga one year ago, I became intrigued of all the inversions, like Sirsasana (Headstand) and its variations, Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand), Vrishchikasana (Scorpion) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand), and always wanted to master of all of them. Although it was quite fearful in the beginning to swing yourself in an upside-down position, I soon became used to it and now I’m able to do most of them without any support. Now I wanted to share some tips for everyone who also wants to learn these Inversions:
- Before practicing Inversions go for Core Yoga classes or just work on your Core muscles. With weak core muscles there’s no way to do Inversions the right way. Of course you can always jump into any Inversion, but the chances of falling and as a result of that getting injured are quite high. Lifting your legs slowly up into headstand looks first of all much more elegant and is also much safer. But this of course requires strong core muscles, which is why you want to practice on them before advancing to the Inversions.
- Make sure your foundation and alignment is correct. Since Inversions can quickly result in injuries, it is important to have a safe foundation and the correct alignment. For example, in Sirsasana (Headstand) you should always rest the crown of your head on the floor and in the final position have 30% percent of the body weight on the head (the rest on the elbows and shoulders). Any other alignment can result in neck injuries, because the neck is trained too much. So check for the correct alignment in a book or ask your teacher before practicing.
- Conquer your fear. Many people who are doing Inversions the first time are afraid of falling down and as a result of that stop practicing. That’s why you should first practice with wall support. When your back in the final position faces the wall there is no way to fall down to the back. Of course you can fall to the front, but this is comparatively much less fearsome than falling to the back and quite risk free. After you feel ready to do it without wall support you can advance to a position in the middle of the room to continue practicing.
- Don’t rush. If you want to learn the Inversions don’t start with the hard ones. It is madness as a beginner to start with Pincha Majurasana (Forearm Stand) or even Handstand. The chances of failing are near 100%. Start with simple Inversions like Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and its variations (Sarvangasana cycle). Then progress to Sirsasana (Headstand) and again its variations (Sirsasana cycle). Afterwards you can proceed to Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand), then Vrishchikasana (Scorpion pose) and finally to Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand). Make sure that you’re strong and steady in one pose before you proceed to the next.
Regular practice of Inversions result in a lot of positive results, because blood is flowing to the head. You will feel physically and mentally revitalized and more relaxed as a result of the reversed blood flow. Also blood circulation is improved and overall well being. It improves your core strength and balance.
Not without reason is headstand known as the king of all asanas!
Until recently the way of practicing Yoga remained more or less the same. Either you choose to go to a private or group class nearby or you practice alone at home. In the last few years YouTube Yoga classes became more and more popular as they combine having a teacher and staying at home. More recently also Yoga classes in a virtual environment are made possible with the emergence of virtual reality glasses, like the Oculus Rift, Google Daydream View, …. This again combines having a teacher without leaving home in a more elaborate way.
Some time ago I also gave this a shot and tried a Yoga class with a VR Headset and I have to say that there are still some major problems with this technology but it has definitely the potential to become a new, trendy way of practicing Yoga.
The biggest problem in my opinion is right now is that, while wearing the headset you’re not able to see your own body. This results first of all for the majority of practitioners in balancing problems and secondly in problems related to alignment as you’re not sure if let’s say your leg is really bent ninety degrees in Virabhadrasana B. Subsequently the teacher is also not able to respond to your misalignment since the video is recorded. This makes injuries more likely as it is easier to lose balance or be misaligned in a certain asana. However, an external camera, which captures the student’s movements and transfers them to the headset in real-time, can solve these problems. With the VR technology progressing really fast this definitely will be possible in the next few years.
What I think is the strongest advantage of VR-Yoga is that it makes Yoga classes possible wherever you want, whether it is a beautiful ashram in India or in front of the clear-blue sea.
VR-Yoga can also be a way to expand the practitioners basic understanding of Yoga. This especially could be really helpful in a YTT, as a lot of students including me struggle with all the names of the different asanas and muscles or in which asana which muscle is strengthened or stretched. In a virtual environment all this can be implemented onto the captured video along with all the tips for perfect alignment, which makes it much easier to learn all this at home, while preparing for the YTT exam or just out of interest in Yoga.
Of course this will not become a full alternative to the conventional practice of Yoga, since the majority of practitioners want to have a real teacher and also real humans around them. But VR Yoga can get a nice add-on to your practice.
If you go to any Yoga studio in Singapore, you will soon realize that most of the students are female. All the classes I ever took were overwhelmingly dominated by women and in the Yoga studio I frequent there are maybe – beside me – two or three other men, who use to come regularly (more than two times a week). Also while I was doing my YTT here at Tirisula Yoga I was the only participant out of a total of 13. If you look at the gender of the teachers – at least at my Yoga studio – a quite different picture shows itself. It is actually quite evenly distributed (with even a slight advantage for male teachers). So the reason why not more men are practicing Yoga is definitely not that they are physically not able to. Actually – historically speaking – Yoga used to be men-only until not so long ago.
When my family was moving to Singapore in early 2017 my mother was the only member of the family practicing Yoga. My father was joining her soon afterwards and a little later both of them were trying to persuade me to also join them. Their effort was not bearing fruits for nearly half a year. I didn’t want to do Yoga because I thought like a lot of other men that Yoga is something for women. My (naïve) idea of a typical Yoga class consisted at this time of a lot of meditation, simple stretches while chanting Om the whole time and then going back home. I think that this perception of Yoga is quite common among men. When I was finally convinced to try a Yoga class all of these ideas were disproved massively. My clothes were dripping wet and I felt muscles I didn’t even know existed days afterward. I soon realized that Yoga requires not only a great amount of flexibility but also to the same extent strength, discipline and stamina.
So the main reasons why the great majority of men are not practicing Yoga is that they have a totally screwed idea of what Yoga is. And the awesome pictures of super-flexible girls on Instagram don’t really help to change that. Yoga is generally linked by men to meditation, chanting and flexibility, but in reality it is so much more! Yes, there are classes which require a lot of flexibility, there are meditation classes, but there are also classes which are more strength based and there are definitely classes which you will finish wet from head to toes. Apart from that Yoga reduces stress, leads to a happier life and improves your posture. Also it cures back pain and an abnormal blood pressure, from which a lot of men are suffering from.
So in a nutshell Yoga is something for everyone regardless of gender!