The Dharma Yoga Wheel is a revolutionary prop that helps assist anyone looking to develop a deeper backbending practice. The wheel stretches deep into the hard-to-reach places in the body including the shoulders, chest, abdomen, hip flexors, and spine. The sequence below is designed specifically to help warm and cool down these key muscles before and after any activity.
Before fully arriving in to this posture, roll forward and back on the wheel a few times to smooth through any kinks in the back body. Once you feel comfortable, let the wheel come to the center of the back, drape yourself over the wheel and relax the head and neck. You can modify with bent knees.
The higher the wheel is located on the back, the easier it is to reach the arms up and over. Sometimes you may need to push the feet into the ground and lift the hips up while reaching for the wheel. Once the seat is planted on the floor, and you have a firm grip of the wheel, drop the head back and on every exhale, slowly start to walk the hands closer toward the floor. Inhale and feel the chest expand, exhale and walk the hands down the wheel. Hold for five to 10 breaths, and then slowly come out of the pose.
Thoracic Spine Opener
This backbend focuses on opening the thoracic spine and shoulders. To get into the pose, begin with your seat on the floor and the wheel against your back legs, bent in front of the body. Reach the arms over head and take hold of the wheel. Push into the feet and roll back until the elbows touch the floor, keeping the knees bent. If your elbows don’t reach the floor, simply go back as far as is comfortable and breathe deeply. Keep the elbows reaching in towards the face and stay for eight to 12 breaths.
If you’d like to take the posture one step deeper, walk the feet away from center and extend the legs, continuing to reach the elbows toward the ground behind you.
Before coming in to the full version of Kapotasana, these back bending stretches will help to open the hip flexors and the psoas. The lower the wheel is positioned toward the base of the spine the more intense the stretch will be on the shoulders, chest, and abdomen. To come into the pose, start standing on your knees, place the wheel on your lower back, and arch backwards. Keep the tops of the feet pressing down on the ground. You can begin with the option on the right, by reaching the arms overhead with hands in prayer. If the hands do not reach the ground, place yoga blocks (or even books!) under your hands to create more comfort in the stretch. To take it one step further (see the version on the left), interlace the fingers leaving the thumbs out. Place the thumbs under the chin and gently press the head back until the top of the head touches the wheel. If you have any neck injuries please proceed with caution and awareness or consult with your doctor or yoga teacher.
Couch Pose Variation
This pose stretches the shoulders, hip flexors, thighs, and toes. To get into this pose come into the roll back position. Lift one leg at a time and kick the foot toward the wheel until both feet are in toward the wheel, with heels in and knees slightly out. Depending on your flexibility your elbows may come off the ground in this pose. Either way, you can stay here, or, with knees on the floor, push into the feet and down into the knees and allow the hips to rise upward. If knees are on the floor you can start to try and work the hands closer toward the ground. Breathe deep into the thighs and hip flexors.
This pose, which is notoriously difficult, can be tremendously improved with the help of the wheel; it stretches the entire spine, shoulders, and hip flexors. If you struggled with the previous backbends, keep working at those postures with deep breathing before attempting this pose.
Related: Ritual Inspiration: Dharma Mittra
Shoulder Stand Variation
Roll back on the wheel, tuck the chin and bring the back of the head down and shoulders on ground. Rest the lower back will rest on the wheel and lift the legs straight up in the air. You can either grab the back of the wheel with your hands or place the hands face-down on the ground. Close the eyes and hold this position for 10-12 breaths. If you have a partner, press your heads in toward each other.
If you tend to fall asleep in meditation this is a great way to stay awake! Place the wheel right below the shoulder blades. You can do this against the wall or with a partner. Keeping your spine upright is important to becoming receptive to energy. After every practice it’s important to sit still so you can digest the benefits of the practice, and recalibrate the spine. Slow the breath down and try and stay still for five to 10 minutes, focusing on the breath.
This piece was written in collaboration with Raquel Vamos, pictured.
Photos by Sidney Bensimon