Asana of the Week: Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana and Viparita Dandasana)

If you came to my classes, you will probably hear me say “open your heart.” That is a phrase that I like to use often in relation to many of the asanas that I teach. Why is opening the heart so important? Because all of us as humans have, at one time or another, experienced emotional hurt, deep loss, or betrayal that may cause us to close or protect our hearts.

The problem with that is the accumulative effect of keeping these emotions stored in your heart. Emotion is equal to energy in motion. If we don’t allow the flow or movement of the emotional energy, it may manifest on the physical level as illness. On an emotional level, a protected heart may cause you to isolate yourself from others, which could lead to other emotions such as resentment and fear.

By learning to open your heart in your physical practice, it may gradually help you move stored emotions and you’ll gradually be able to forgive, let go of resentment, and release fear. You’ll also be able to let people in again. Ultimately, when you live with an open heart, you’ll experience more love and joy. You’ll be better able to listen to people, to accept them for who they are, and to respond to them from your deepest essence.Back-bending poses open the heart area physically and energetically and set the foundation for having a more open heart in your daily life. They require steady effort and an ability to surrender to something bigger that is always there to support you.

Urdhva Dhanurasana

This pose is commonly called “Wheel”, but this translation is not correct as feet and hands don’t really touch to create a full wheel. “Urdhva” means upwards and “Dhanu” means bow, in this pose the body is arched back like a bow supported by hands and feet.

The benefits of performing this pose are:

• Stretches the chest and lungs
• Strengthens the arms and wrists, legs, buttocks, abdomen, and spine
• Therapeutic for asthma, back pain, infertility, and osteoporosis

Contraindications and Cautions:

• Back injury
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
• Diarrhea

Beginner Tips and Props:

The knees and feet tend to splay as you lift into this pose, which will compress the lower back. Also the elbows tend to splay open away from each other, which endanger the wrists.In the beginning position, keep the elbows close to the face and parallel to each other. Press into the feet to lift the hips, press into the hands to lift onto the top of the head. Pause to breathe and make sure than the fingers are pointing towards the feet. Press feet and hands to lift completely.To keep the feet from turning out, place a block between them, with the base of the big toes pressing the ends of the block. As you go up, press the feet into the block.To release from the pose safely, move chin toward the chest and bend the elbows to lower down.

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana

Viparita means reverse or inverted, Danda is a staff or rod. This is a graceful advanced backbend.

Benefits:

• Stretches the entire front body and opens the chest.
• Keeps the spine sound and healthy.
• Recommended for relieving pain in the coccyx region of the spine.

Contraindications and Cautions:

• Back injury
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
• Neck injury
• Headache

Beginner Tips and Props:

This pose requires an advance practice and preparation poses, although you come into the pose the same way you do for Urvha Dhanurasana (upward bow). It is important that you are able to perform poses like Pincha Mayurasana (forearm stand) and Sirsasana (headstand). These poses prepare you to support the incredible heart opening of Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana.
Push yourself up into Urdhva Dhanurasana. Bend your elbows and place the top of your head on the floor. One at a time, bring your forearms alongside your head and interlace your fingers behind it. Inhale and expand from within. Exhale and soften. Support the opening of your heart by lengthening from the core of the pelvis and out through your legs and feet. One by one, walk your feet out until your legs straighten. As you do this, take your time and continue steady breathing. It requires steadiness to protect the lower back while opening the heart and extending through the legs. To safely come out of the pose, walk your feet back under the knees and place your hands back in the ground, press into the hands and feet to lift back into Urdhva Dhanurasana and then bring the chin to the chest as you release down by bending the elbows.

Contributing author: Sandra Lora. Sandra is an independent health, fitness, and wellness professional here in Toronto, as well as one of Yoga Tree’s fantastic instructors.


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