Wheel Pose and Back Pain

wheel pose   wheel pose

Wheel Pose, or urdhva danurasana, is a conundrum for me. I love wheel pose, and every other backbend as well. Yoga for me is all about backbending. What I learned ashtanga way back when—we take on the first series to build strength that will allow for the backbending of the second series in order to open and access the body’s energy channels. But wheel pose, like every yoga asana, is hard to do with integrity.

Yoga is ostensibly good for back pain but it is very easy to make your back pain worse or even create back pain by doing yoga incorrectly. Advil is good for headaches but abusing Advil will wreak havoc on your liver. Too many people think that yoga works for you simply because you do it.

Wheel pose is a part of almost every yoga class I teach.  Somewhere towards the end of class I usually offer a bridge pose or two, and then wheel pose. And then I tend to on the cringe inside as I watch student’s feet turn out, knees move wide of the ankles, and elbows fail to move towards the midline.

Very often I encourage students to do one of three different variations that deserve posts of their own. One already has which is the wheel preparatory pose (see the video) where I ask students to press up onto the top of their head and come back to the floor without moving the feet or knees out to the side, trying to keep the forearms parallel.

The other two options are a block between the thighs and feet, and a belt around the thighs and arms just above the elbows. The idea of the blocks is to maintain contact at all time during the ascent and the belts speak for themselves. Your arms and legs will find it much more difficult to rotate incorrectly when strapped up.

The sacroiliac joints have been the subject of numerous posts of late and they suffer most from a poorly executed wheel pose. The lumbar spine suffers as well. If the feet turn out and the knees widen away from the ankles the SI joints can be crunched. If the elbows and forearms turn too far away from parallel the latissimus dorsi will not engage and the back of the spine has much less of a chance to extend successfully.

Wheel pose is fun and empowering but it is too easy do do it incorrectly. Spending the time to get it right, even if it takes a while, will serve you for years to come.

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