Ready for a Wheel Challenge? How to Do the Yoga Wheel Pose

The Yoga Wheel Pose is a challenging asana. It’s a great way to open up the chest while strengthening the arms, legs, and core. Yoga Wheel Pose is also a good way alleviate pressure in the lower back or spine.

Are you ready for a wheel-y rad yoga pose to add to your practice? Enter: Wheel Pose (aka Upward Facing Bow Pose or Urdhva Dhanurasana). This challenging asana is great for strengthening your arms, legs, and and abs. It also has some impressive perks for your spine and back.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do the Wheel Pose, plus variations for beginners.

yoga wheel pose
María Soledad Kubat/Stocksy United

How to do the Wheel Pose in yoga

The Wheel Pose isn’t normally considered beginner-friendly. So, take it easy and focus on proper form at every step. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Lie flat on your back.
  2. Bend your knees so the soles of your feet are flat on the ground close to your bottom.
  3. Bend your elbows so your palms are flat on the ground beneath your shoulders. Point your fingers toward your feet.
  4. As you inhale, press down through your hands and feet. Lift your shoulders and hips an inch or two off the ground.
  5. Keeping your weight supported by your hands and feet, bring the crown of your head to the floor.
  6. Take a moment to check that your elbows are still parallel.
  7. Press into your hands, using the strength of your arms to bring your head up off the ground.
  8. Check that your feet are parallel and align your knees with your feet.
  9. To release, tuck your chin into your chest to lower yourself to the floor.
  10. Hold for up to 30 seconds at a time.

Pro tip: Keep your outer thighs firm and turn your upper thighs inward as you lift. Also, be careful not to put stress on your neck.

Wheel pose vs. yoga wheel: What’s the difference?

Wheel Pose is a yoga asana (aka position). The yoga wheel is a hollow circular aid used for stretching and working on flexibility.

Yoga Wheel modifications

Here’s how you can modify Wheel Pose to make it easier or more difficult.

Yoga Wheel beginner modifications

If you’re almost able to pull off a wheel pose — but you need to cheat just a little — you’re in luck. Here are a few ways to make Wheel Pose a bit more beginner-friendly:

  • Place two blocks against the wall and grip those to steady yourself as you push up.
  • Have a partner slide their feet right in front of your shoulders and grip their feet for support.
  • Use a belt or exercise strap to hold your arms parallel. This prevents them from splaying outwards.

Wheel Pose advanced modifications

Once you’ve mastered the basic Wheel, there are lots of fun ways to make it more challenging. Here are some tips for advanced yogis:

  • Once you reach the full stretch, lift one leg up to the ceiling and hold for a moment. Then return it to the ground and repeat with your other leg.
  • Walk your feet into your hands for a higher arch.
  • Stand up from a full wheel then drop back into the wheel from standing. Psst. This one is tough AF.

What are the benefits of the yoga wheel pose?

Yoga offers beaucoup benefits for your mind and body. Wheel Pose might help:

How can I do wheel pose safely?

You should always be safety conscious when practicing yoga. But a back-bending asana like Wheel Pose requires extra awareness. Here are some tips to help you prevent ouchies:

  • Proper form. Don’t contract your glutes too hard as you reach the full stretch. This can lead to spinal compression and can increase the risk of hyperextending your lower back.
  • Take it slow. It can take weeks of work (or longer) to fully master the Wheel Pose. Be patient with the process and don’t be discouraged!
  • Don’t push past your limits. Your bod needs time to recover after each workout. So don’t force yourself to do a full Wheel Pose if you aren’t feeling 10/10. This can increase your risk of injury and a sore back.
  • Use a prop. Ain’t no shame in the prop game! Hold a yoga block between your thighs to protect your knees. You can also use a block under your hands to make it a bit easier on your spine.

6 alternatives to wheel pose

You’re prob not going to nail the wheel pose on your first day as a yogi. And that’s OK! Here are six beginner-friendly asanas that offer similar perks.

1. Child’s pose

person completing childs pose
GIF by Dima Bazak

Balasana, or child’s pose, is a nice easy beginner yoga position. It’s ideal for warming up, even if you’re a complete noob:

  1. Get on your hands and knees.
  2. Keep your big toes together and the tops of your feet flat against the ground.
  3. Widen your knees toward the edges of your mat.
  4. Lean forward until your stomach is resting between your thighs.
  5. Bring your forehead forward to rest against the ground.
  6. If your forehead can’t quite reach the floor, rest it on your fists stacked on top of each other. Otherwise, place your arms ahead of you, palms facing to the ground.
  7. Ease into a comfortable breath pattern.
  8. Hold for up to 1 minute.

2. Cobra pose

person in cobra pose
GIF by Dima Bazak

Bhujangasana is a solid beginner’s backbend and an ideal gateway into yoga. Even regulars might want to polish their cobra. Here’s how:

  1. Lie on your stomach.
  2. Bend your elbows and tuck them in to your sides.
  3. Put your palms flat against the ground, aligned under your shoulders.
  4. Keep your neck and head neutral, set your pubic bone against the floor.
  5. Lift your chest as you inhale. Keep your elbows tucked with a neutral neck.
  6. Bring your shoulders back and make sure your bottom ribs don’t lift off the floor.

3. Bridge pose

bridge pose
GIF by Dima Bazak.

Say hi to Setu Bandhasana. It’s great for spine extension and activating your core:

  1. Begin on your back.
  2. Bend your knees and place both feet flat on the floor.
  3. Extend your arms down against your body so your fingertips brush your heels.
  4. As you inhale, lift your hips by pressing with your feet.
  5. Allow your spine to roll up off the floor, keep your knees at hip-width.
  6. Lift your chest up using your arms and shoulders.
  7. Hold for a few breaths, engage your legs and butt.
  8. Gently release and lower back down to the ground.

4. Camel pose

camel pose
GIF by Active Body. Creative Mind.

Ustrasana is a little more advanced, but it’s a good way to get yourself ready for the wheel pose:

  1. Begin on your knees with your body, hips and thighs aligned upright.
  2. Bring your hands around to your lower back, fingers pointing downward.
  3. Lift your ribcage and open your chest to the ceiling.
  4. If you want to go deeper, reach your left hand back to grab your left heel, then do the same on the right.
  5. Bring your gaze to the ceiling and open your throat. Use your neck muscles to support your head here, rather than letting it drop all the way back.
  6. Keep your hips aligned above your knees and hold. Breathe.
  7. To release, tuck in your chin slightly, return your hands to your low back, and lift from your ribcage to return to kneeling.

5. Bow pose

bow pose
Gif by Dima Bazak

Dhanurasana continues to step things up; another back bend that also works your chest:

  1. Lie flat on your stomach.
  2. Place your chin on the floor with both hands by your sides, palms facing up.
  3. Bend your knees as you exhale and bring them as close to your butt as possible.
  4. Grab your ankles with pointed toes.
  5. As you inhale, lift your heels up from your butt without letting go of your ankles.
  6. At the same time, lift your upper body from the floor. Begin with your head, then your chest, then the thighs until only your core is resting on the ground.
  7. Hold for 15 seconds as you keep your tailbone drawn down towards the mat with your chest and shoulders open.
  8. Release as you exhale by lowering your upper body, then your feet before letting go of the ankles.

6. Dolphin pose

dolphin pose gif
GIF by Active Body. Creative Mind.

Let’s round off with Catur Svanasana, a souped-up version of the downward dog that’s sure to push the limits of your back extension:

  1. Start on your hands and knees. Your forearms should be on the floor with your elbows aligned under the shoulders. Your toes should be tucked beneath your feet.
  2. Exhale and engage your core. Lift your knees from the floor.
  3. Straighten your legs and lengthen up through your tailbone.
  4. Keep your heels pushed toward the floor, but they don’t need to touch it.
  5. Press your forearms into the floor with your thighs and lower stomach engaged.
  6. Hold for 10 breaths with your shoulder blades drawn onto your back and spine fully extended.
  7. To disengage, relax your body and lower into a kneeling position.

tl;dr

Wheel pose is a challenging yoga move in its own right that pushes flexibility in the chest and back. An intermediate pose, it’s a fantastic gateway to some advanced positions. Just be sure to take your time and don’t push past your limits. The moves (and their benefits) will open up when they’re ready to happen naturally.

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