Wheel pose is a yoga backbend that you need to approach with respect; after all, there’s the risk of landing on your head if you do it wrong! But learning how to do a backbend can be very empowering, making the posture (known also by its Sanskrit names chakrasana and urdhva dhanurasana) a valuable addition to your yoga practice.
Whether you’re a new yogi or have been practicing a while, this guide to wheel pose will help you learn how to perform the posture correctly. You’ll also learn the mistakes yogis most commonly make while attempting chakrasana.
Wheel Pose, Defined
Different types of yoga use different terms for the backbend known as wheel pose in English. Chakra translates as “wheel” in Sanskrit, while urdhva = “upward” and dhanu = “bow.” Asana means “seat” or “pose.” And, in Ashtanga yoga, an entirely different pose (a backward somersault-type movement used as a transition out of urdhva dhanurasana) is called chakrasana.
How to Perform Wheel Pose (Chakrasana)
Ready to give chakrasana a try? Here’s how to perform it with proper form.
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat, and heels close to your glutes.
- Bring your hands overhead, bend your elbows, and place your palms on the mat beside your head, fingers pointing toward your shoulders.
- Pressing into your feet and hands, lift your hips off the mat, and hold for a breath or two.
- Keep pressing into your feet and hands, and gently lift onto the crown of your head (don’t place much weight on your head and neck — your hands and feet should be doing the work).
- When you’re ready to progress fully into wheel pose, lift your head off the floor and straighten your arms, while pushing down with your feet. Keep your neck long and relaxed, and let your shoulder blades spread slightly.
- Hold the pose for several breaths up to one minute, keeping your knees hip-width apart.
- To exit the pose, bend your arms and legs, tuck your chin toward your chest, and lower down to your mat.
How to Make Wheel Pose Easier
Urdhva dhanurasana can be challenging, even if your spine is naturally flexible. Here’s how to modify it.
- Take bridge pose instead. If you aren’t quite strong or flexible enough to straighten your arms into full wheel pose, swap in bridge pose or stay in the earlier stages of the posture.
- If you feel discomfort in your lower back, engage your abdominals and make sure you aren’t clenching your glutes.
- If your wrists hurt in wheel pose, ask a friend or teacher to help you. Instead of placing your hands flat on the mat, wrap them around your partner’s ankles, then push up.
- If your knees or feet turn out, place a block between your thighs using the middle width, or between your feet using the longest. Squeeze gently. Ideally, your knees and feet should be hip-width apart.
How to Make Wheel Pose Harder
Yoga backbends like chakrasana are a great way to measure your strength and flexibility. As you progress in the pose, you may be ready to try these harder variations.
- Walk your hands closer to your feet. As your body opens up and wheel pose gets easier, you can shorten the distance between your hands and feet for a deeper backbend.
- Lift one leg at a time. Once you feel stable in wheel pose, press firmly into both hands and one foot as you lift the other leg straight up. Hold for several breaths, then switch sides.
- Lift your heels, and push into your hands. This variation on wheel pose really stretches the chest and upper body.
- With the help of a teacher, work on dropping back and standing up from the pose.
- Do wheel push-ups. Lift into the pose on an inhale, and slowly bend your arms to lower yourself as you exhale. Repeat up to 10 times to build strength and raise your heart rate.
Beginner’s Tips for Doing Wheel Pose
Though urdhva dhanurasana is a backbend, it also opens and stretches the front of your body. If you’re tight in those areas, the full pose may be challenging at first.
Integrate yoga backbends like bridge pose, locust pose, and upward-facing dog, as well as hip flexor stretches, into your practice to prime your spine and hips for wheel pose. These tips will help keep you safe as you progress with chakrasana.
- Warm up first, especially your chest and upper body. This is an advanced pose, so don’t try it if your body isn’t warmed up.
- Be mindful of your knees and shoulders. If you feel discomfort at either joint, try an easier version, or stretch those areas with other poses before trying again.
- Keep your glutes relaxed. You might feel tempted to engage your glutes, but that creates compression in your lower back.
- Point your toes and knees forward. At first, you may feel your legs turn out in wheel pose. If your knees are wider than your hips, focus on stretching your quads and hip flexors. Or, use a strap to keep your legs from going wider than your hips.
Benefits of Wheel Pose
Chakrasana stretches and strengthens from head to toe.
1. Stretches anterior muscles
The more you press into your hands, the greater the stretch in your chest, shoulders, and core. (But be mindful not to overdo it — respect the limits of your rotator cuffs.) The same goes for your hip flexors and quads.
2. Strengthens and stretches tissues supporting the wrist
The more you push into your hands, the more you’ll feel this stretch in your wrists. It’s a great way to counteract all the time we spend typing and texting.
3. Strengthens arms and legs
In wheel pose, your arms and legs do most of the work to hold you up. Practicing this pose regularly helps build strength.
4. Strengthens posterior muscles
While you shouldn’t clench your glutes in urdhva dhanurasana, they definitely get a workout — especially the glute max. Wheel pose also helps strengthen spinal muscles.
Start or Continue Your Practice
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