Wheel pose is a yoga backbend that strengthens that requires practice: the post strengthens arms, wrists, chest, and legs. Wheel pose takes a lot of skill, and it is often difficult to achieve the pose with arms straightened.
If you can’t straighten your arms in wheel pose, work on increasing flexibility in your shoulders and chest. You can also learn the mechanics of the pose and focus on the rotation of your shoulders and upper arms.
In this article, we will be sharing specific exercises and stretches you can do to increase flexibility in your upper arms and chest. We will also discuss the mechanics of the wheel pose to help you better understand the pose. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be confident that you will soon achieve the ideal wheel pose.
What Is the Wheel Pose?
The wheel pose, also referred to as Chakrasana or Urdhva Dhanurasana in Sanskrit, is a pose that leads to flexibility of the spine. This pose is ideal for people who spend a lot of time sitting or working from a desk.
In this yoga pose, the hands and feet are flat on the floor as the abdomen arches upward. Variations of this pose are also possible (see picture). Wheel pose is normally entered from a supine or lying position. Entering a wheel pose from standing and doing a backbend is referred to as a bridge pose, a less rigorous form of a wheel.
As mentioned, the wheel pose strengthens the arms, wrists, chest, and legs. Specifically, the wheel pose strengthens the calf muscles. When considering flexibility, wheel pose very effectively stretches the calves and spine.
Focus on Shoulder and Chest Flexibility
A full wheel pose is considered an intermediate and sometimes advanced yoga pose. Good form in wheel pose calls for arms to be straight from the wrist through the shoulder—significant flexibility in the shoulders and chest is required to accomplish this. Read on to learn some specific stretches that will help you improve and increase flexibility in these areas.
Before practicing any of the listed stretches, starting with shoulder rolls would be a good idea. Find a proper alignment, with the crown of your head reaching upward, and chin tucked, and begin to roll your shoulders in a fluid motion. Intentionally move your shoulders up, back, and then down.
Repeat this movement at least ten times and repeat them in reverse motion, rolling your shoulders forward at least ten times. This will effectively warm-up and loosen the shoulders.
Cow Face Pose
Cow Face Pose, also known as Gomukhasana, is an easy pose that will gradually increase your shoulders and chest flexibility. Focusing on modifying this pose, doing it in either a seated or standing position, one arm will raise and bend down at the elbow, reaching toward the middle of your back. The other arm will rotate with the forearm facing down as the arm bends at the elbow to reach up the back, with both hands reaching toward each other.
As you continue to practice this pose, your hands will eventually be able to grasp each other. This is how you will achieve the deepest shoulder stretch. For the deepest chest stretch, reach out heart/chest forward as hands are holding each other.
Cross-Body Arm Stretch
Another effective stretch for shoulder flexibility is the cross-body arm stretch. In this pose, you will reach one arm across the body, keeping it straight. Then, using your other hand and arm, you will press the reaching arm against your chest. Practice this stretch as frequently as you can, holding the stretch on each side for at least ten seconds.
Extended Puppy Pose
This pose is a chest opener ideal for stretching the front of the shoulders, chest muscles, and upper back. To settle into an extended puppy pose, start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. You will then extend, reaching hips back and arms forward. Reach your arms forward as far you can, keeping your shoulders aligned over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
Chair Shoulder Stretch
This stretch is also great for achieving a deep stretch in all parts of the shoulders. Put the back of a chair up against a wall. Kneel about two to three feet in front of the chair, placing your elbows shoulder-width apart on the edge of the seat. With a neutral spine, lengthen your hips and the hug in your abdomen so your pelvis is parallel to the floor. You can deepen the stretch in your shoulders and arms by squeezing a yoga block between your hands.
Target Other Tight Spots
Although straightening your arms in the wheel pose requires great mobility and flexibility in your shoulders, chest, and upper back– achieving this pose will require more full-body flexibility. If you have practiced shoulder and chest-opening stretches and still cannot achieve straight arms in your pose, you might try targeting other tight spots.
If you are stiff in your hips, thighs, or calves, you will notice it hard to find a deep wheel pose. This is because if your legs are tight, it will be difficult to lift your hips without the feet turning out. If your feet turn out and don’t support you fully in the pose, the pose can be unbalanced, putting more weight on your shoulders and wrist. This extra weight and pressure can be enough to keep you from straightening your arms.
If this seems to be the case and you feel flexible in your shoulders and chest, perhaps try working on loosening your thighs and hips to distribute your weight while in the pose evenly.
Wheel Pose Mechanics
A better understanding of wheel pose mechanics may help you better visualize how you need to maneuver your body to achieve the deepest and truest pose. In wheel pose, the upper arms rotate as the shoulder blades turn outward and upward. The rotation may feel like an unnatural movement, but it is key to straightening your arms.
It is important to let your arms and shoulders rotate in this way, as forcing the pose out of pressure can lead to injury. After stretching with the above-mentioned poses, the best place to start is to lay on your back, placing your hands next to your ears with your fingers pointing toward your shoulders. Keeping your hands flat, you should be able to keep your elbows shoulder-distance apart.
Mastering this position will be key to success. If you cannot lay in this position without your elbows, pushing outward, practice here before trying to press into wheel pose. Once you have achieved this, see if you can hold your arms in position, and you start to arch into the pose, with your head hovering over the ground without elbows going outward.
Again, if you can not keep your arms in the correct rotation, focus on this before focusing on achieving a full pose. Eventually, you will be able to keep lifting until you have lifted into a full pose with equal weight on both your legs and your arms. Without mindfully doing this rotation, it will be likely challenging to naturally achieve straight arms in the pose.
The wheel pose is an intermediate yoga pose, and mastering it takes time. Focusing on stretching and lengthening your shoulders and chest muscles, targeting other tight spots, and understanding the mechanics and pose will lead you to successfully achieving the pose. It was a pose that takes patience and practice but has many benefits once you dedicate yourself to mastery.