This deep heart opener is an advanced pose from the standpoint of both strength and flexibility. If your body is not ready for full wheel you can do camel, supported bridge pose, bridge pose, or half wheel. As always: listen to and honor your body along the way.
For many people, especially those of us who work sitting down for much of the time, tight shoulders and hip flexors can make this a real challenge which makes the journey to full wheel one that requires a lot of patience. Even in yoga class we may stretch the hamstrings but neglect to stretch the two muscles that make up the iliopsoas– the iliacus and the psoas, which work to draw the trunk and the thigh towards each other (like sitting in a chair). If these are tight you cannot back bend without feeling discomfort and pain in the lower back.
Heart openers can also be scary. Exposing your heart is a vulnerable thing to do. What do you do when you’re sad or scared? You likely hunch over, rolling the shoulders forward, caving the chest in, protecting your heart. Opening the chest and exposing your heart can cause feelings of panic, fear, and uncertainty.
Back bending brings energy up the spine cleansing the nervous system.
Back bending brings energy up the spine cleansing the nervous system. Your prana or life force is released, burning through any blockages you have. But this process can release a tidal wave of emotions that can flood you with not so happy feelings. Whether you are deep in a backbend or a beginner in a mild bend it doesn’t matter, because the emotional state that is triggered feels just as strong no matter where you are.
We usually like to back away from these overwhelming experiences, so we avoid getting deep into our backbends. To deal with the fear, we need to cultivate a calm and balanced mind. As you practice you need to breathe deeply and evenly, and try to stay a little bit longer each time. When you begin you might be unable to avoid the release of some unhappy emotions. Don’t judge yourself, but don’t shy away from the process either, allow it to happen. I dealt with a period of panic and tears on the mat constantly when I started back bending. No matter where you are on the journey I promise you it will get easier. Because back bends also release adrenaline and produce feelings of euphoria – they can and will feel good too!
It is tempting to try to get into wheel using muscular force only, but this is inviting strain or injury. When muscular tension is first released the pose becomes light and you can hold it up with your breath. We release that tension by slowly and with great awareness working into it – stretching and opening all the right places. It is always about the journey and observing yourself on the path– not rushing to get to the destination.
To bend the spine backwards, you need to open up the hip flexors, shoulders, intercostal muscles, side body, psoas, and quads. Opening the heart center, the “Anahata” chakra is a beautiful feeling. Anahata means “unstruck” or “unhurt.” Remember: this is a journey of the body opening up, and letting love flow freely towards yourself and others.
Be kind to yourself every step of the way, extending the compassion and the forgiveness that you feel towards others towards yourself as well. When you’re practicing backbends it’s also good to cultivate a meditation practice where you just sit and observe your feelings without judgment. A Buddhist mantra to go along with this is Om Mani Padme Hum. Contained in this verse is the truth of the nature of suffering and how to remove its root cause.
Take a look at these eight poses you can do to get ready for full wheel
A reformed perfectionist, SARA MANDEL KRUG is a Twin Cities yoga instructor with a passion for practicing and teaching Ashtanga yoga. She hopes to inspire people of every age and ability to try and experience its healing power. Sara is a proud mom of 2 and has a very supportive husband who sometimes even takes her Instagram pictures.