I do love a good backbend, I find them really energising as they literally open up the whole body as well as the heart space. It's a big pose because not only do you need to be flexible in the spine, the whole body needs to be open - yes, the whole body! The shoulders, arms, wrists and the quads all need lots of space in them in order to be able to move into this backbend with ease. So today I'm breaking down how to do wheel pose step by step along with a few of my own tips. Do not worry if you find this pose hard, it's a big backbend. Just keep working on your breath and opening up the whole of the body and one day it will happen - I promise!
First things first - make sure that you are warmed up before practising wheel. In a flow class you will usually find backbends near the end of the practice as your whole body needs to be warmed up. Makes sense right?
- Give this video a go to wake up and warm up the body.
- Move through 5-10 sun salutations. Pause where you need to and add anything extra you feel that your body might need.
- It's important that the shoulders are warm and open for this pose. I move through a shoulder opening sequence in this video.
Good to go? Let's get started!
How to do Bridge Pose
Firstly we want to move into Bridge Pose. This pose is great preparation for wheel as it opens the shoulders, lengthens the spine and activates the quads.
- Lie down with your feet hip width apart and find a neutral place for the low back. Press your big toes into the mat and inhale to lift the hips up as you lengthen the knees towards the front of the room.
- Bring your hips as high as you can without squeezing or over activating the glutes.
- You can stay here with your hands down by your side or if you like (and it feels good) interlace the fingers beneath you, wiggle the shoulder blades towards each other so you come onto the side of the upper arms. This creates more space for the upper back.
- Allow your head to stay still and gaze up towards the sky. Engage the inner thighs and make sure that the knees stay in line with the ankles and the hips without tilting out to the sides.
- Stay here for 5-7 breaths then slowly release and come down.
TIP - You can always place a block between your thighs in bridge pose as it helps you to keep the knees and the legs hip width. Give it a try!
How to do Wheel Pose
Okay! Once you feel good in your bridge pose it's time to take it to the next stage towards wheel.
- Beginning in bridge pose as above with your arms resting down by your sides, reach your arms up towards the sky and plug the sockets of your arms into your shoulders.
- Ground the shoulders into the mat then place your hands on either side of the ears, shoulder distance apart.
- Press your hands down and lift up. Engage the core.
- You can pause lightly on the crown on your head and maybe this is where you stay for today.
- Squeeze your elbows inwards towards each other lift up through the chest and bring the chest towards your arms, lifting all the way up into wheel.
- Relax the neck and fully engage the legs! Breathe! - you've got this! Stay here for 5-7 breaths.
What goes up must come down! Come out of the pose slowly is just as important as going in.
- To release the pose tuck your chin into your chest and slowly bend the elbows allowing the shoulders to touch the floor first rather than the head.
- Come all the way down onto your back.
- Allow the low back to settle on the mat, toe-heel the feet to about mat width apart and allow the knees to knock together. This allows the pelvis and and spine to neutralise.
TIP - Please don't bring the knees into the chest straight away following wheel pose, it's really bad for the spine to go from one extreme to the other. If the lower back is pinching just allow yourself to sit with it for a while in the knock knee position as above.
Counter Poses for Wheel Pose
After a strong backbend it is important to use counter poses to restore the body.
- I've already mentioned the first one above. Allow your arms to fall down to the sides, close your eyes and just breathe.
- Twists - Bring the knees into the chest and T shape the arms out to either side. Allow the knees to fall over to the left and bring your gaze out to the right, draw down through the right shoulder. Stay here for 5-10 breaths and then switch sides.
- An easy forward fold - Find a seated position and extend the legs to the front of the mat, keep a soft bend in the knees. Take a nice full inhale and then on your exhale allow the chest to come down onto your thighs. You can hug your arms around your knees if you like for a super cosy, restorative forward fold!
A few things to remember
- When practising backbends, you must try to distribute the space as evenly as you can throughout the spine. Often the lower back (the lumbar spine) is very flexible and we need strength here more than anything else. The same goes for the neck. However the upper back (the thoracic spine) is the place that needs the most opening. So try to focus your breath and your backbend around this part of the spine.
- Don't be afraid to use props! As with bridge pose you can use a block in wheel in order to keep the knees in line with the hips.
- You can also use a strap in a circular shape and place it around the upper arms to keep the elbows in line with the shoulders.
I hope that you found this tutorial helpful and picked up some tips for your practice. Please do leave me a comment and let me know. If you have any suggestions for other yoga poses you would like to be broken down then please do let me know!
Please use this tutorial to expand and deepen your practice, if you found it helpful please do share with your yogi friends!