How to Do Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman on yoga mat doing wheel pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Full Wheel Pose, Upward Bow Pose, Chakrasana, back bridge

Targets: Backbend, chest opener

Level: Intermediate

Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) is a backbend that is characterized as a beginner's backbend, but it still requires building up strength and flexibility to achieve it. It opens the chest, shoulders, and hips in a way that counteracts the typical modern-day sitting posture. Backbends are usually done near the end of a yoga practice. After performing Wheel Pose, it is common to do a mild twist or forward bend.

Benefits

This pose improves spinal mobility and opens the chest. It strengthens the arms, shoulders, and legs. Wheel Pose is traditionally said to be energizing and can lift your mood. As it opens your hips, shoulders, and chest it works in opposition to the slouched and sitting postures that are common in modern life.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Come to lie on your back
  2. Bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet onto your mat close to the buttocks. Reach down with your fingertips and make sure that you can just graze your heels. The feet should be parallel and hips' distance apart.
  3. Bend your elbows and bring the palms of your hands underneath your shoulders with the fingertips pointing towards your feet.
  4. Inhale and press down into your palms and your feet as you lift your shoulders and hips up off the floor. Do not press all the way up yet.
  5. Bring the crown of your head to the mat. Pause here for a moment as you make sure that your elbows are staying parallel and not splaying out to the sides.
  6. Straighten your arms as you lift your head off the floor.
  7. Make sure to keep your feet parallel and knees in line with your feet.
  8. Reach your chest towards the wall behind you.
  9. Begin to straighten your legs.
  10. To come down, tuck your chin into your chest and lower down slowly.
  11. Rest, allowing the knees to knock together.
  12. Try to do your backbends in sets of three. If it's too much to do three Wheels at first, you can mix in a Bridge or two.

    Common Mistakes

    Avoid these errors so you get the most out of this pose without strain or injury.

    Hyperextending Lower Back

    Contracting your butt muscles (gluteus maximus) too intensely can tilt your pelvis up and this can compress your spine and hyperextend your lower back. Only firm your glutes, do not overdo it.

    Splaying Knees and Feet

    If you splay your knees and feet it will compress your lower back. If you have trouble with the legs separating and the feet turning out, try squeezing a block between your thighs to help you keep the legs parallel.

    Modifications and Variations

    As with most yoga poses, you can do this pose in various ways to make it more accessible or to deepen the pose.

    Need a Modification?

    If you have tight shoulders, try taking your hands a little wider than your shoulders before you push up. Sometimes this little bit of extra space allows you to straighten your arms more.

    Try the pose on the wall. Take two blocks and place them against the wall. Put each hand on a block and then push up as described above. If that's hard on your wrists, try leaning the blocks against the wall at 45-degree angles.

    Recruit a partner. Get yourself set up on the floor and then with your partner standing behind your head and facing you. Have then scoot their feet almost under your shoulders. When you press up, hold their ankles instead of having your hands on the floor.

    Use a strap on your upper arms to keep them from splaying. Make a loop in the strap that is about the width of your shoulders. Slide this onto your arms above the elbow before your press up.

    Up for a Challenge?

    You can deepen the pose in a few ways:

    • Lift one leg straight up toward the ceiling. Repeat on both sides,
    • Walk your feet in towards your hands.
    • Come up to Stand from Wheel. Then drop back from a standing position into Wheel. When you are first attempting this, walk your hands up a down a wall.

    Safety and Precautions

    You should not do Wheel Pose if you have had an injury or chronic problem with your knees, wrists, shoulders, neck, or back. Don't force your body into the pose before it is flexible enough to do so without straining. Bend back only as far as you can naturally. With continued practice, you will gradually build your flexibility to achieve the pose.

    Try It Out

    Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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