Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel)

Urdhva Dhanurasana, aka wheel pose (Chakrasana), is an intermediate/advanced backbend that offers many benefits to the body, mind, and spirit. However, having said that it does not mean you should be scared to practice this as a beginner to yoga. You can slowly go through several warm up asanas and start off with bridge pose (Sethu Bandhasana) before attempting Wheel. Here are some poses to warm up your spin, open your chest and shoulders and release the tightness from your thighs, hips and abdomen before attempting this backbend.
* Caution –attempting this pose does not equate crushing your lower back! Though this may seem the easiest way to deepen the pose but it may cause damage to your back and knees so please be careful and always try to visualize lengthening your spin towards the back of the room rather than lowering down to the ground.
We can start off with gentler backbends like the Sphinx or Cobra which will initiate your back:-
Chest should be facing the front, gaze ahead at neutral position, ground forearms and palms pressed firmly on the floor so as not to collapse the shoulders. Stay for 3 breaths before attempting the pose again.
Doing the bow will help to stretch your quads and open up your chest and shoulders. At the same time, this pose will let you know how your wheel will feel in this inverted position.
Remember to squeeze your glutes, raise your chest off the floor while using your arms to lift your feet away from your buttocks. Think about someone lifting your feet from the ceiling and as you go deeper into the pose, try to lift your thighs away from the floor. Stay for 3 breaths before attempting the pose again.
Extended puppy stretch:-
Extended Puppy
Wall stretch
This is an intense shoulder opener. Opening of shoulders is important when doing backbends and this will help entering backbend poses safely. If you find kneeling uncomfortable, another variation is doing this standing up with the aid of the wall.
This pose strengthens the spin, buttocks, backs of arms and legs which is important when doing backbends. Lie on your belly, exhale and lift your head, upper torso, arms, and legs away from the floor. You should be resting on your lower ribs, belly, and front pelvis. Tighten and engage your buttocks and reach strongly through your legs, keeping the big toes turned toward each other.
If you don’t feel comfortable, place under the pelvis and ribs before performing this pose.
Lie on your back, bend your knees and try keep your heels as close to your buttocks as possible. Bend your elbows and place your palms close to your ears. Slowly push your buttocks and lower back up first before raising your upper back and shoulder off the floor. If you are feeling comfortable, using your arms, push and straighten your arms. Make sure your fingers and toes are all pointing towards the front, legs and elbows are not splayed outside. Keep your neck neutral and gaze between your arms towards the front.
When exiting from this pose, slowly lower yourself vertebrae by vertebrae from starting from your shoulders, upper back, lower back and lastly your buttocks.
Here are some reasons why it is great to incorporate wheel pose into your yoga practice:-
1. Wheel pose strengthens and lengthens the vertebrae, which increases elasticity and flexibility of the spine;
2. The pose strengthens your arms, wrists, abdomen, legs, shoulders and chest;
3. Opens up the chest and strengthens the lungs; and
4. As you stretch in wheel pose, you remove fat buildup from your oblique area.
Elaine (200hr YTT Weekend July 2015)

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