This effervescent asana juxtaposes the breathtaking lift of the upper body with the grounding support of the forearms and feet. Generally, backbends are known for their energizing effect as well as for opening the muscles in the front body to make space for the heart, and strengthening muscles in the back body to improve posture.
This pose in particular is often foiled by tightness in the chest and lack of suppleness in the spine. Practice the following safety tips to bend (not break) deeper into Forearm Wheel Pose.
Safety Tip #1: Practice seated meditation to have a strong spine as foundation.
If you normally sit hunched over a desk or have shoulders that naturally cave forward, it is going to take some practice before you can safely attempt Forearm Wheel Pose. Practicing seated meditation for 5-10 minutes a day will greatly improve your spine strength—a needed quality to protect the body in any backbend.
After meditating, gentle neck and spine rolls will improve suppleness in the body for Forearm Wheel Pose.
Safety Tip #2: Practice Virasana to engage the back body and protect the lower back.
Virasana (Hero Pose) requires the body to learn internal rotation of the thighs, which properly engages the back body and provides protection for your lower back. It also stretches the ankles and knees. Practicing with the hands in Paschima Namaskarasana (Reverse Prayer Pose) stretches the forearms and opens the heart. Hold here for 5-10 breaths.
For a deeper opening of the legs and upper body, practice modified Supta Virasana or Reclining Hero Pose (see photo above) with blocks in a traditional T-shape (one block at medium height resting along the shoulders and one block at the highest height under the head) and arms overhead. If the hands do not touch the floor, get another block to support them.
Modify! If it is impossible to keep the knees together and thighs internally rotated, practice Ardha Supta Virasana. Actively rest here for 5-10 slow and easy breaths.
Safety Tip #3: Practice modified Extended Puppy pose to prevent shoulder, back, and arm pain in Forearm Wheel Pose.
Tight shoulders, upper back, and arms not only limit mobility but can cause pain when practicing Forearm Wheel Pose.
One modification of Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose) is to place two blocks shoulder distance apart. Place the elbows about a third of the way on the blocks and slowly melt the heart down. For a deeper and more intense stretch in the upper back and shoulders, press the palms gently together. Depending on your body, you will notice resistance in different places.
Practice with the palms resting on the back, straight toward the sky, or somewhere in between. Hold for 2-3 minutes if possible, starting with as many slow breaths as you can.
Safety Tip #4: Practice Forearm Plank for strong core support and lower back protection.
Forearm/Dolphin Plank Pose activates the forearms in the same manner necessary for Forearm Wheel Pose. It requires the thighs to lift and legs to straighten. This movement can be enhanced with a block between the thighs to engage the inner thighs.
Safety Tip #5: Find comfort in preparatory poses like Bridge and Wheel pose before moving on.
If it is still a challenge to lift the hips in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), slow down and practice with a block under the hips for a bit. With a block to support some of the weight, focus can be on the alignment of the legs.
Once Bridge pose gets easier to breathe in, remove the block. Eventually move on to Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose). Practice lifting by pushing down in the feet and hands. Other great preparatory poses include Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose).
Finally, Forearm Wheel Pose
Now that you know the safety tips, you can start practicing this powerful asana. Ready for Forearm Wheel Pose? Go for it!
Image credit: Liz Lowenstein