To get into position, the following needs to be done :
(1) Shoulders flex and abduct
(2) Elbows extend
(3) Forearms pronate
(4) Knees extend
(5) Trunk extends
Common alignment issues will be used to discuss how this pose can be improved.
Common Alignment Issue 1 – Thighs and Knees Splay Apart
To address this, first, plantar flex the ankles, press the weight into the soles of the feet and press the heels into the mat. This engages the peroneus longus and brevis muscles on the sides of the lower legs.
Next, when in pose, contract the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius muscles to internally rotate the hips to counteract the external rotation forces of the hip extensors (gluteus maximus and adductor magnus). Ask the student to fix the feet on the ground and contract the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius to draw knees towards midline. Use a block between knees and squeeze it to bring awareness of these muscle contraction.
Common Alignment Issues 2 & 3 – Knees are not straight and hyperextension of the lumbar spine
Engage the quadriceps to straighten the knees. As the feet are glued to the mat, they cannot move out to the front hence the quadriceps act like a hydraulic lift to raise the pelvis. The rectus femoris crosses the hip and knee joints moving both when they contract. This will tilt the pelvis forward. Together with the contraction of the gluteus maximus, this rotational effect on the pelvis helps to extend the spine and helps to prevent hyperextension.
Common Alignment Issue 4 – Hands are not straightened
Contract triceps to straighten elbows. As the longheads of the triceps attaches to the scapula, firmly engaging this muscle aids to rotate the scapula away from the humerus and prevents impingement of the acromion process. The gives more room to flex arms above the head. Activate the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles to externally rotate the shoulders, creating a helical action down the arms and through the elbows. To get into this position, imagine rotating the hands outward.
Engage the anterior deltoids to flex the shoulders further, drawing the trunk deeper into the pose from the arms. To get a feel of the deltoids, before entering pose, ask student to raise arm in front of him and feel the front of the shoulder with the other hand to feel the anterior deltoid contracting. When in pose, draw the shoulder blades towards each other by engaging the rhomboids. When arms are above the head, the scapulae will rotate outwards. Use the lower trapezius to depress the scapulae and draw the shoulders away from the neck. The rhomboids and trapezius muscles combine to stabilize the shoulder blades.
Wheel push ups using blocks can be done to help those unable to straighten their hands to achieve that gradually.
Finally, on a non-alignment issue, breathing in this pose can be improved by breathing from the chest instead of the abdomen if one wants to reap more benefits from the pose. It is not easy to do and requires bringing awareness to the breath and consciously direct the breath from the abdomen to the chest through practice.
• Benefits of Udhva Danurasana
1. Udhva Danurasana strengthens and lengthens the vertebrae to increase elasticity and flexibility of the spine. As we age, our spines compress. This pose creates the necessary space in the spine to keep young and healthy, and standing tall.
2. Strengthens arms, wrists, abdomen, legs, shoulders and chest resulting in toned muscles. In particular, it strengthen the muscles of the shoulder girdle including the trapezius, rhomboids, supraspinatus and infraspinatus which helps in keeping good postures.
3. Opens up the chest and strengthens the lungs and is also instrumental in allowing increased amounts of oxygen into the rib cage. Respiration will improve. Studies have shown that wheel induces therapeutic effects in practitioners with asthma. Breathing deeply while holding the pose is important.
4. Enhances the nervous system and improves hormone secretions that keep the body in optimal health. The hormonal balance that is attributed to wheel is said to aid in fertility.
5. As one stretches in wheel pose, fat build-up may be removed from the oblique area.
6. Loosens tight hips hence increase hip flexibility.
7. This pose is a full body and weight-bearing pose that can reduce the onset of osteoporosis.
8. As Udhva Dhanurasana is an inversion, we give the heart a break because the baroreceptors in the brain sense a flood of blood to the brain resulting in slowing the flow. This decreases blood pressure and heart rate.
Mental and Spiritual
1. Counteracts stress, depression and anxiety. This is due to stimulation of the thyroid and pituitary glands when engaged in the posture.
2. Wheel pose is a heart opening backbend. Heart openers are intended to cure any broken hearts from our past, while allowing ourselves new opportunity for love. It also helps to maintain emotional stability.
3. The vulnerability one feels from performing the pose develops courage in us.
4. Increases endorphins and energises the body.
• Who Should Not Do This Pose
Those have back injury, have carpal tunnel syndrome, heart irregularities, shoulder impingement, headaches, diarrhoea or high or low blood pressure.
Submitted by Patricia Loke, February 2016