Good morning! The touch of fall in the air is giving me some much needed energy for today’s post. I have to admit that this isn’t a sequence per se. I’m going to call it a pose process – as in, there are a lot of steps to this version of wheel and I encourage you to take it one step at a time, hanging out for as long as you need or want in each. We are going to use the wall to “drop back” to wheel but in a controlled way, passing through a version of camel pose (ustrasana) and upward dog/cobra (urdva mukha svanasana/bhugangansana) a long the way.
I think it’s clear that I like Wheel (sorry Blakeney!) and this is my favorite way to teach it. Why? Because you can customize this approach to all levels of students and it works for almost everyone no matter how open or tight their backs might be. Though I don’t think of this pose process as theraputic, it came in really handy when I had a student a couple of months ago who could not bear any weight on her knees at all. Because all steps of the pose are done standing up, she could participate.
It’s also a great party trick :). Boyfriend Steve, who is a big comic book fan, was very excited when I told him I could climb up and down the wall like Spiderman.
Step 1: Find a wall. If you are planning to try to get all the way down the wall into wheel, you’ll need to be at least an arm length away from the wall as I am in the photo below. But if you are nervous, or just planning to go back a little bit into a camel or cobra shaped backbend, you can stand closer. Plant your feet firmly onto the floor about shoulder width apart and bend your knees just a smidge. Tuck your tailbone under to help protect the lower back.
Step 2: Prepare to drop back, pausing in standing camel pose. I’ve got my hands at heart center here, but you might want to bring your hands to your sacrum to encourage keeping your tailbone tucked and the bend out of your lumbar spine. If you are planning to stop here, or want to hang out in this pose for a while, you may stand closer to the wall and rest your head onto the wall. The closer you are to the wall, the more gentle the backbend.
Step 2: Find the wall with your hands. This step can actually be the hardest part for people because of the fear that can come into play. No matter how much I assure students that the wall is there, and does not move. Most don’t believe me until they work up the courage, reach back and find the wall for themselves. Remember, backbends can be very vulnerable because of the opening in the chest. Take your time, learn to trust yourself and find the wall when it is right for you! This position is very similar to upward dog or full cobra, and you get a lot of backbend just playing around with this step in the pose process.
Step 3: Begin to slowly make your way down the wall with your hands. You control the speed here and I’d encourage you to go slowly and do any little adjustments you need to along the way to make sure you haven’t thrown the pose into your lower back. Keep your heel firmly planted and start to bend your knees. Make sure your quads are moving slightly forward.
Step 4: Find your wheel stopping point. You can actually get all the way down to the floor but my back wasn’t feeling that when we shot these photos, so I came to rest about 18 inches off the floor. It’s also a lot easier to come back up from here than from the floor. But, on another day I might want to go all the way down or stop much higher up on the wall. That’s the beauty of this process – totally customizable to how you are feeling at the moment in time you do it!
As you hold the pose, keep tucking your tailbone under and pressing your heels into the floor. You should be feeling the pose in your dorsal or middle spine and should be getting quite a bit of shoulder opening here as well. The two photos above show how different the pose can look based on a slight adjustment of the feet and legs, so as usual, I encourage you to find the shape that fits your body.
To come out of the pose, simply retrace your steps, coming up slowly and with control. I recommend a gentle twist after this series before you start forward bending, which otherwise might be a bit too jarring on the body after such intense backbending work.
Let me know how it goes in the comments! Also, don’t be shy in any case – if you are reading, I’d love it if you said hello!