Sometimes I get emails from students when they are able to do Wheel Pose or Urdhva Dhanurasana, for the first time. There’s something about that particular yoga pose that seems to have a symbolic meaning. When I’m in class, I know it’s coming and depending on my mood, I’m either looking forward to it, or it looms in the distance like an oncoming train. I like to think that a yoga class is like music and each individual pose is like a note. When you put all the poses together, you get a yoga practice and when you put all the notes together, you get music. Just like in a song, especially classical music, there’s a crescendo, which emphasizes the high point of energy in the song. From there, the song often decreases in both pace and volume and you can almost feel the energy of the music decreasing. This is often what it’s like when you reach wheel pose in class; after that the sequence slows and you often move into the longer holds and the restorative hip poses.
Wheel often takes a good amount of strength, although a beginner can definitely do it. Wheel requires more than just brute strength (as in lifting weights); it requires “integrated strength” which is one of the wonderful things you get when you practice yoga. I’ve seen people that may not seem to be physically strong come up into wheel because they know how to coordinate their movements and move in a biomechanically sound way. There are many people who are physically strong enough to lift 200 lbs, but it’d be hard for them to make it into wheel pose.
Wheel also seems to speak to our type A or achievement mind and in our zest to attack yoga in the same way we attack all our other exercise related workouts, we often look at that pose as a reflection of our prowess as a yoga student (I’m speaking for myself here). I know I’ve felt pressure to “do wheel” instead of “doing bridge,” where bridge pose (setu bandhasana) is a modified version of wheel. It’s just as effective but again, in our mind, we can often equate more challenging poses with more value. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But, a healthy challenge is a good thing and as long as we’re consciously working with our bodies and not working through pain, it can be a wonderful way to push ourselves outside the boundaries of what we think is possible. For a posture like Wheel, if you’re having trouble, it’s always best to work with a yoga teacher privately and he or she can support you with modifications and assists so that you can safely explore the pose. But wheel is also one of those postures that often comes after a few weeks or months of practice; by that point, you’ve built up strength and also the ability to call on that strength in a coordinated fashion so that you can use it in a seamless way.
Overall though, we’ve got to remember that a yoga practice is is not measured by how challenging the poses are that comprise it; in fact, a yoga practice is ideally not measured at all. It’s ideally done just for the mere sake of doing it; for the sake of moving and breathing together. When we start to evaluate a practice and classify it as “good” or “bad” we get into the trap of comparing and evaluating and that really doesn’t belong in a yoga practice. Yoga is best left to be enjoyed, no matter what poses comprise the practice, whether or not modifications are done, props are used or rest is taken several times throughout the practice. Sometimes, it takes time for us to get to that point and often it’s only after years of working our bodies really hard that we begin to see it’s less about working the body hard and more about just doing something regularly.
So, set go ahead and be grateful when you come up into your wheel pose but remember, you can derive great benefit and pleasure from a yoga practice whether wheel is done or not.