8 Yoga Poses to Prepare You for Wheel Pose
Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) is considered a more advanced pose because it’s a total body stretch. Not only do you need flexibility in the spine; you also need flexibility and strength in the wrists, arms, chest, shoulders, hips, abdomen and quadriceps. Sound like a lot? Have no fear! The good news is that the flexibility and strength will come with consistent practice.
When first attempting wheel pose, you might try to use brute force to push yourself into the pose. However, this brute force puts you at risk for injury. The most important thing is to build a backbend that benefits your body.
A lot of us spend a majority of our day at the computer, driving, etc. so we may need to spend extra time focusing on opening our shoulders and upper back, since Wheel Pose requires openness for the proper rotation in our shoulders. Some of the poses here address this, but it’s always good to keep this in mind.
The following poses and stretches will open and strengthen the thighs, spine, shoulders and chest to help prepare your body for Wheel Pose:
Low Lunge Quadricep Stretch
Low lunges strengthen your thighs, groin, glutes, and knees; they also stretch the hamstrings, quads, and psoas, release tension in the hips, create space in chest and shoulders, and cultivate balance and core awareness – all important things for a solid Wheel practice.
Here’s how to do it: Press your hips toward the front of the mat to deepen the stretch. To back off, simply shift the hips more towards the back knee or back of the mat. The further your hips press forward, the deeper the stretch.
The quad stretch comes into play by lifting the back foot and grabbing onto the back heel. The closer you draw your heel in towards your seat, the deeper the quad stretch; the further you press the lifted foot down towards the mat, the gentler the stretch.
Stay here for five deep breaths, then slowly release and switch sides.
Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Bridge Pose builds core and lower body strength while lengthening and strengthening the spine. Building strength in your core, lower body and spine will help protect your lower back and keep from dumping your weight into it during Wheel Pose.
Here’s how to do it: Engage the legs and buttocks to lift the hips higher, lightly squeezing the knees together to keep them hip-width distance apart. Press the arms and shoulders into the mat to lift the chest up and gently toward the chin.
Stay here for five breaths, then slowly lower down one vertebrae at a time.
Cobra Pose is a backbend that stretches and strengthens the muscles in the front of the torso, the arms, and the shoulders, and increases the flexibility of the spine. Think of Cobra as the first stage in conditioning your upper body for backbends.
Here’s how to do it: While engaging the entire backside including thighs, buttocks and calves, begin to gently lift your head and chest off the mat. Pull your shoulders down and away from the ears and lift the heart.
Stay here for several breaths, and slowly lower back onto your stomach.
Camel Pose is a powerful front-body stretch, including the thighs, groin and psoas, and also strengthens the back muscles. This pose allows for a greater opening throughout the entire front of the body. Think of Camel Pose as the second stage after Cobra, gently easing yourself toward the proper positioning for backbends.
Here’s how to do it: Bring your knees wider than hip-width, and press your hips forward as you engage your glutes and drop your head back. Hands can press into your low back, or find a grip on your heels for the final expression.
Remain here for several breaths, then slowly come out of it the same way you came in. Come into kneeling by bringing your seat to your heels and take a few breaths before moving on.
Bow Pose restores flexibility to the spine and relieves lower back pain, releases tension in the upper back and neck area, all while releasing strain and discomfort in the legs. Consistent practice will also help develop upper-body strength. Bow Pose requires your body to be in a position quite similar to Wheel Pose, so the more strength and flexibility you build in this pose, the easier the transition into Wheel.
Here’s how to do it: Laying on your belly, bend your knees and reach back to grip your outer ankles. Bring your knees in towards each other, and with an inhale kick into your hands as you lift your chin and chest off the mat.
Stay here for several breaths while rocking forward onto the soft part of your stomach. On an exhale, slowly lower your chest and thighs back to the mat and rest.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward Facing Dog strengthens the upper body, arms, shoulders, chest and legs. It also stretches the chest, shoulders and the entire back body, including the ankles, calves, hamstrings, and spine. Both strength and flexibility will help keep your lower back safe during backbending.
Here’s how to do it: From a tabletop position, engage your lower belly drawing the navel back to the spine while pressing the floor away from you, as you straighten into your legs and lift your hips skyward, making an “A” shape with your body.
Stay here for five deep breaths.
Dolphin (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
Dolphin Pose opens the shoulders and upper back, lengthens the spine, stretches the hamstrings, and also builds core and upper body strength.
Here’s how to do it: From Plank Pose, lower onto the forearms. Lift the hips and begin stepping the feet closer up toward the elbows. Keep the spine straight and long, reaching up high through the tailbone. Press the heels toward the floor, feeling a stretch in the back of the legs.
Take a few breaths in your Dolphin Pose to help open the shoulders and build strength.
Standing Wall Stretch
Standing Wall Stretch will prepare you to extend your arms overhead by lengthening key muscles in your shoulders, upper back, and arms. This stretch also extends your arms overhead while keeping your arm bones externally rotated, which is extremely important in Wheel Pose.
Here’s how to do it: Begin with your hands about shoulder distance and give yourself enough space to allow your spine to remain long. Keep shoulder blades gently engaged, so that you create space between your ears and shoulders. Allow the chest to get heavy and press toward the floor.
Stay here for five to ten deep breaths, relaxing into the stretch.
When you’re working toward Wheel Pose, the most important thing to remember is that you are working to build a pose that benefits your body. By building your flexibility and strength over time, you will be able to develop the proper alignment, which is key to benefitting from this pose. Be gentle and patient with yourself – Wheel Pose is a great opportunity to truly explore your limitations and work through them.
How do these poses feel in your body? Does anyone feel instant relief, especially if you sit at a desk or in a car all day? How have they helped you with Wheel Pose? Please share your experiences in the comments below!