The wheel pose, a common yoga pose also known as a backbend in gymnastics, is a double challenge. You need both the strength to push yourself off the floor, and sufficient mobility to extend your arms overhead and behind you. “Most people overarch the lower back and underarch the upper back, which limits the action in the shoulders,” says yoga and Feldenkrais instructor Roland Mathews, GCFP. “They need to learn to extend the upper back while spreading the ribs in front.”
Mathews recommends preparing with the following Feldenkrais-based movements. Perform each one slowly and effortlessly two to three times a week, before or between yoga classes.
1. Rolling Fists
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Extend your arms straight out to the sides, palms up, hands in loose fists.
- Keeping your arms in contact with the floor, slowly turn your palms downward, and simultaneously lift your head and upper back a few inches off the floor.
- Reverse the movement, lowering your head to the floor and turning your palms upward while simultaneously lifting your hips a few inches off the floor.
- Slowly repeat the movement 12 to 15 times, resting as needed and breathing easily throughout while focusing on the movement in your shoulders and upper back.
2. Prone Upper-Back Twist
- Lie face-down with your left hand on top of your right, your head turned to the left, and your right cheek on top of the back of your left hand.
- Keeping your hand in contact with your cheek, slowly lift your head and left arm a few inches off the floor as if to look over your left shoulder (don’t strain!).
- Repeat this movement 12 to 15 times, resting as needed and breathing normally throughout.
- Pause for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat the movement on the other side, switching hand positions so the right is on top.