Backbends of all sorts are so good for us because in our everyday life we tend to do the opposite: slump forward.
Practising Urdhva Dhanurasana is a deep backbend that takes some real effort and dedication to practise. I love to add Urdhva Dhanurasana into my practice when I have enough energy – so usually, in the first half. Even though the pose requires strength and power, that is what it will yield as well. You will feel more alive and strong. The pose stretches the whole front of the body. Hips, belly and chest are opened and your lungs are stretched so you will increase your breathing capacity too.
Afterwards, I like to do some mild twists and forward bends like Down Dog and Reclined Twist (Parivartanasana) to counteract the backbend and bring me back to balance.
To come into Wheel pose, make sure you do a proficient warm up, opening the shoulders and the hips, as well as strengthening the legs and arms. Gradually build up your backbends to this peak pose. (Jenny’s excellent article Working on your Wheel will help you work on the necessary actions to enable you to come up into this challenging pose.)
If your shoulders or wrists are not open enough for this deep backbend, you may not be able to place the palms of your hands fully flat on the floor. There are two ways of modifying this pose to accommodate for this tightness: roll up a sturdy blanket and place the heels of the hands on the roll or place two yoga blocks on your baseboard (skirting board) at the wall at an angle and place your hands on the slanted blocks. For lower back pain, you can try coming high on to your toes when you’re in the pose.
Urdhva Dhanurasana is a more advanced backbend that most people will have to work towards. The full expression of the pose has greater benefits than the milder backbends, such as Bujangasana (Cobra pose) and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge pose). Urdhva Dhanurasana opens the chest so the lungs can function better, it stretches the muscles of the chest, belly and hips and legs, while engaging the muscles on the back body. Urdhva Dhanurasana stretches the organs in the belly, stimulating circulation and increasing the functioning of the organs. It also massages the kidneys and stimulates the adrenal glands, which make us feel more energised and alive. It’s a pose with a plethora of benefits so well worth the effort!
Here is a step-by-step instruction of Wheel pose.