Urdhva Dhanurasana, commonly known as wheel pose or backbending, can often intimidate even the more experienced yogis. In this post, we explore how wheel pose can open your heart. It’s an emotional process that, much like the physical nature of backbending, should not be assisted.
The above is a concise urdhva dhanurasana demonstration video by Kylie Rook from Yoga With Kylie while wearing her Courage My Love Yin Yang legskin tights. We adore the way Kylie shares her yoga passion with the world and are thrilled to be a part of it.
Backbending wasn’t something that came naturally to me.
I once watched a little girl on YouTube teaching her viewers – from the setting of her pink bedroom – how to drop back into wheel pose, or urdhva dhanurasana. She was into gymnastics and called it a “bridge”. Her instructions were something like: “stand with your feet on the floor and now just drop backwards”.
My guess was that she would have been around 10 years old. She, of course, did this with ease. Yes!
Yep, except well no, I’ve never been able to do it like that. Not in my 20 years of yoga. And you can imagine how many classes and teachers I’ve had in that time.
Only in the last six years have I learned more about bones and their natural limitations. Before then, I held a belief that everyone can do any yoga pose as long as she tries hard enough. I loved how Donna Farhi taught us that “unless you get a hammer out, it’s not physically possible for some…”
What an eye opener! And a back saver.
More commonly heard in yoga classes are the aspects of heart opening when it comes to deep backbends like urdhva dhanurasana. To be honest, I’ve often rolled my eyes around those teaching queues.
What has the heart got to do with it?!
Anyone who knows me, knows I am a ‘heart centered’ woman. Even my son comments with frustration at how everything is always about love with me. So, why couldn’t I get into this pose?
About six years ago I was on a mission to push my body into this shape and I believed it was going to happen with training. Like all things in life, when we ask to have an experience it has a tendency to occur. Like that saying, “be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it!”
After months of steering my yoga practice into this direction, I believed I was ready to make it happen. I booked a private session with the amazing Jess Smith. After a warm up, I asked her to assist me into wheel pose.
She could see my determination and, being a special teacher who values the yoga journey in the student, she kindly explained that she would do no such thing. She shared how wheel pose is not something that should ever be assisted, that it happens when the student is ready. And then she began talking with me about my heart.
I remember that session so well because two things happened:
I see it frequently when I teach yoga.
That student who pushes herself into poses with force, will, ego, determination. Body shaking, breath laboured, or even held.
This is what is called manipulation of the body. There’s nothing wrong with it and many a mastered body art comes from this style of training.
For me, it became an unrewarding and injury laden path in terms of my yoga practice. For me, it was like taking a beautifully wrapped, quality handmade chocolate, putting it into my mouth and forcing myself to swallow it without unwrapping it or chewing it.
I would never know what that chocolate truly tasted like and suffer the potential physical discomfort of what I had just done.
Mark Whitwell taught me that yoga is the participation of body and breath, not the manipulation of body and breath. That is a powerful teaching and one which I come back to again and again.
Little did I know that after my first ever wheel experience with Jess Smith, I was embarking on a massive journey entirely about opening my heart. And not the kind of heart opening I could ever imagine. Not the love thy neighbour variety, but the love thyself flavour.
Over the last six years, there have been many layers to this self discovery. I’ve learned that the heart-opening my life invites me to do is toward myself. Loving myself for being who I am and, much like gardening, weeding out that which doesn’t serve me and sowing that which does.
This is a daily practice. If I did it once and left it on auto pilot, like a garden, all the seeds I planted would be overgrown with weeds. I continue to nurture and cultivate a space for me and my needs around personal growth in this area every day.
What about wheel pose now?
When urdhva dhanurasana arrives in my yoga practice these days, it’s an expression of joy, straight from the heart. It’s like a dance move that builds up inside when the music takes you there, postures like wheel emerge from the inside out, in full participation with the body and breath, without force or strain. Like a bloom opening to the morning sun.
So I say unwrap that chocolate and suck it until it’s gone. Life, after all, is for living!