Don’t let the challenge of Wheel Pose keep you from its benefits. Sometimes it's just a mental block keeping us from Wheel. We talk ourselves into believing we can't do it when we just haven't given it a good try.
These five poses will help prepare you for the full expression of Wheel Pose. You'll be back bending in no time!
1. Twist: Twists are wonderful for overall flexibility. They also benefit the liver, kidneys, stomach, pancreas and spleen. Because Wheel Pose uses nearly all of the muscles in the body, we want to make sure the back muscles and shoulders are properly warmed up and open. To do a shoulder opening twist, first lie on your stomach with the right arm stretched out 90 degrees from your side. Turn onto the opposite cheek (looking the opposite way). Bend your left elbow and place your palm flat neck to your ear. Now, roll onto your right side; bend your top knee and place the left foot back behind you on the floor. You will feel a deep stretch in the right shoulder. Hold, and then switch.
2. Another beneficial pose for Wheel prep is Plank Pose. It warms the core and shoulders and gets the entire body ready too. Plank Pose is basically the top of a push-up. Straight arms. Shoulders over wrists. Stomach pulled in, tailbone lowered slightly. No arch or sag in your back; push back through the heels. Hold and repeat a few times. You can also work through your Sun Salutations to get to plank pose and hold if you prefer.
3. If you are going through a Vinyasa, hold in Sphinx Pose. Come onto your belly and place your elbows under your shoulders. Hug your biceps into the body. Elevate your chest, but not too much. You do not want to feel a pain in the low back. Engage your core and thighs to support the low back. Hold and repeat several times to strengthen and warm up the back muscles.
4. Camel Pose is a pose that works the same muscle groups as Wheel Pose does, but it doesn't require the same amount of upper body strength. This makes it a great practice pose. Sit up straight on your knees with your knees hip-distance apart. Reach your arms straight out in front of you. Lean back slowly, keeping the core tight. Bring your hands to your low back or reach back for your heels. Tilt your head back slightly, using your neck to support your head. Engage your thighs and push your hips forward. Come out of Camel Pose very slowly and then come first to table and then move into Child’s Pose to relax and loosen the back.
5. Finally, take Bridge Pose. This is the ‘gateway pose’ to Wheel Pose. Come down to your back and bend your knees. Place your palms flat on the floor next to your body. Bring the feet into where your fingers can just barely graze the heels. The heels should be hip width apart and knees should point forward (they should never drop in or bow out). Now, slowly raise the hips. Keep the core and thighs engaged to help support the back. If you want a bit more shoulder opening, you can interlace your hands under your tailbone by rolling the shoulders under you. Hold and repeat.
These five poses will help get your ready for Wheel. Practice these until you feel ready to take on the full expression. Breathe deep. You can do it!