Yoga gives us plenty of opportunities to touch base with our hearts and express love in a myriad of ways, from loving yourself to relationships with others to enjoying that greater Universal Love. This winter why not incorporate more heart-opening practices on or off the mat?
Urdhva Dhanurasana, or Wheel Pose, is wonderful heart opener that also invites shoulder opening and spine-lengthening qualities that can leave you feeling as though you could hug the world. Here are some tips to ensure your heart, body, and mind feel the warm love all winter long!
Before approaching this pose, enjoy 3 rounds of Surya Namaskar A and 3 rounds of Surya Namaskar B. In your last round of Surya Namaskar B, feel free to add the hip opener Devotional Warrior (Humble Warrior), and stay there for 3 to 5 breaths before moving to the second side.
Follow this with some standing poses on both sides, including Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) and Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior) for leg strengthening and side waist lengthening, both helpful in Urdhva Dhanurasana.
You can end with some revolved postures like Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle) or Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle) for added spine suppleness. Then come down onto your back to enjoy 1 to 2 rounds of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge) in preparation for Urdhva Dhanurasana.
Step 1: Open your mind to the possibilities.
Lay on your back with knees bent, feet hip-width apart and hands resting where they feel most comfortable. Close your eyes and steady your breath so that you can clear you mind and begin to tune into your heart. Imagine a wide open, tranquil space, your own personal sanctuary.
Step 2: Tap into your full capabilities.
Backbends are not solely about the flexibility of your spine; rather they rely on the cooperation from other parts of your anatomy as well.
Bring your hands behind your shoulders, fingers pointing toward you and press the palms into the floor, hug your elbows toward each other and press up enough so you can let the crown of your head rest on the floor for a moment. Use this time to refine your alignment again.
This is often when the elbows want to splay out, but commit to maintaining openness in your upper back. Shrug your shoulders away from your ears, and think about spreading your collar bones without letting the elbows splay. When you are ready, press into the hands and feet to lift into the pose.
Remember, this is a whole body commitment, so don’t let your arms attempt to do all the work. Tune into the added power of your legs; firm your muscles and internally rotate your legs to support more stability in the pose.
Step 3: Cultivate spaciousness from the inside out.
Happy backbends celebrate creating space within your body even though it may not look like it at first glance.
Once you’re up in Urdhva Dhanurasana, if you feel compressed around the base of the spine or the lumbar region, refocus on rotating your legs inwardly to help release tightness there. Gently tone the core as you lengthen your tailbone away from your heart and towards your shins.
Don’t obsess about whether your arms are perfectly straight in this pose. For that matter, don’t obsess about looking back at the floor, either; rather focus on whether your spine feels supple and the breath comes smoothly.
Let your neck relax, soften the eyes as you connect with your breath more. Invite your breath into the upper and middle back to help keep the back body full. Enjoy some liberating breaths surrounding your entire heart, from the front, the back and all sides.
Step 4: Return to bliss and peace.
After some unrestricted breaths, sweetly tuck your chin to chest and lower the shoulders down to the mat. Keep your spine long as you roll down—vertebrae by vertebrae—until your sacrum presses down on the floor.
Move your feet a little wider than your hips and let your knees drop in to each other, like a tent. Bring one hand to your heart and the other to your navel center. Close the eyes and envision that spacious personal sanctuary, again, as you return to a steadying breath.
Enjoy this sweet, heart-strong moment that is all your own.
As you reach the end of your practice, feel free to add a simple supine twist here. Then bring your knees into your chest and wrap your arms around them for a loving hug. Stay as long as you like. Then extend the legs out for Savasana. Tap into that heart warmth all winter long, in joy and in peace.