I've been toying with posting a "how-to" on Chakrasana (aka Urdhva Dhanurasana) for some time now but my ego's response to my not-so-perfect physical form in the asana was holding me back ;)
Today I'm throwing ego to the wind and offering these photos as a descriptive tool to perhaps help you learn a little about your own backbending.
Chakrasana (Wheel Pose) aka Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)
Before practicing this posture be sure that the body is warm and loose. A good warm up sequence would include:
Cat Lift & Cat Tuck
Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation) x 3+
Uttanasna (Forward Fold)
Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
Dhanurasana (Bow pose)
Setuasana (Bridge pose)
*be sure to follow each of these deep backbends with a counterpose such as Pavan Muktasana (Wind Release pose) or Reclined Spinal Twist
To begin Chakrasana lie on your back and bring the heels of your feet as close to the sitting bones as possible. Place your palms just above the shoulders, fingers pointing down the body. Feet should be hip width apart (as in Bridge pose) and hands shoulder width apart. Find a deep connection to the Earth with each foot and hand.
The forearms should be about perpendicular to the floor. Gather the shoulders and elbows so both are active and engaged. Do not let the elbows splay out.
Begin to move into the posture by scooping the tailbone up and lengthening the spine off the floor. Press into the inner edge of the feet to do this (keeping the knees hip width apart). Press into the hands and lengthen the neck, placing the top of the head on the floor. Take a couple of deep breaths.
To move deeper, press firmly down through the inner edge of the hands (the first finger and thumb) and inner edge of the feet. Keep the upper arms parallel and shoulders gathered. On a strong exhalation straighten your arms, lifting your head off the floor.
Once the arms are straight, bring your awareness into the legs. Continue to press into the feet and gather the knees so they don't splay out. Keep the buttocks firm, but not clenched. The tops of the thighs are active and strong . Feel the tailbone lengthening toward the knees. The belly and chest are broad and the neck is long, crown of the head reaching toward the floor. At the same time you continue to press into the hands (especially the base of the first finger) and straighten the arms.
Continue to breathe deeply, staying in the pose only as long as you can comfortably breathe.
To come out of Chakrasana
Tuck the chin toward the chest and slowly bend the arms to take the back of the head to the floor. Roll the neck and spine along the ground slowly until the full back is resting on the floor. Hug the knees into the chest in Pavan Muktasana. Follow with Reclined Spinal Twist in both directions.
Things to look out for:
1. Feet and knees splaying out. This often happens as we focus attention on the strength required in the arms to lift the head of the floor. Keeping the feet and thighs parallel to each other brings additional strength to the pose and actually reduces the amount of work for the arms. It also protects the low back.
2. Clenched buttocks. The underside of the body should be firm but not clenched. Clenching can actually compress the low back. Instead, feel lower body strength come from the tops of the legs and the connection between feet and floor.
3. Lifting UP in the posture rather than lengthening the spine. Once the arms are straight we tend to feel we should life up higher from the hips and belly. This approach won't lead us to freedom in the pose. Instead of imagining the belly lifting up, feel the spine lengthening in both directions: tailbone reaching to the knees and head and neck reaching to the floor. This elongation will allow the spine to bend more deeply and thus, bring us deeper into the pose.
This posture stretches the chest and opens the heart. It strengthens wrists, arms, shoulders, legs, abdomen and buttocks. Chakrasana stimulates the endocrine system via the thyroid and pituitary gland. It is a very energetic pose, increasing vitality and reducing depression.
Some contraindications of the pose include:
-wrist or back injury
-high or low blood pressure
Such a strong pose should be worked on in short spurts. The arms can tire easily, making you less stable in the pose.
Perhaps this posture will be a fun challenge during the holidays...when the deep backbend is accomplished stress and tension melt away. Joy and freedom take hold instead.
Feel free to chat with me about your Chakrasana experiences here on the blog or at the Studio!