If you've been to a yoga class, chance are you're familiar with yoga blocks, straps and bolsters. But have you tried the yoga wheel yet?
The original yoga wheel (aka the Dharma Wheel) was designed to match the curve of the spine and can help in a variety of poses —especially backbends. It can also help alleviate aches and pains by opening the shoulders and hip flexors as well as improve spine mobility and serve as a prop to help you deepen your practice.
Benefits of Using a Yoga Wheel
One of the greatest benefits is using the wheel to feel and understand their bodies better in a particular pose. "Most beginners have a hard time in backbends," Barniske says. "There's a lot going on in a backbend like the movement at the sacrum (the lower back bone situated between the hipbones of the pelvis) and articulation of the shoulders. If we understand what we are doing, it makes it much more effective to deepen the practice."
Additionally, if you have an injury, the yoga wheel can be an excellent tool to help you ease back into your practice. You can lie on top of it passively with support from the wheel and begin to understand where the tension and/or pain is.
Or if you're feeling adventurous and just want to switch things up and get stronger, the yoga wheel can be a tool to strengthen your core. However, Barniske recommends being very mindful and cautious at first when finding your balance on the wheel. "In the beginning it can feel quite disconcerting," he says.
11 Poses to Try With a Yoga Wheel
Ready to get started? Below are 11 poses to try out on the yoga wheel. You can use this sequence as a full practice, as it includes deep stretches for the shoulders, hips and hamstrings as well as core strengtheners, backbends and restorative poses to help you cool down and relax.
1. Child's Pose (Balasana)
HOW TO DO IT: Start by kneeling. Place your hands on the wheel in front of you. Bring your big toes together and separate your knees to about hip-width apart. Sink your hips toward your heels as you create length in your spine, particularly your lumbar spine.
Press your hands down onto the yoga wheel while letting your head and chest drop toward the floor to feel a stretch in the shoulders and chest. Breathe with ease while remaining in this pose for 10 breaths.
2. Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
HOW TO DO IT: Begin in a lunge with both legs forming 90-degree angles and your right knee down on the mat. With the yoga wheel behind you, lift your right foot off the floor and bring your heel toward your butt. Position your shin on the yoga wheel.
Lift your torso and, if you feel balanced, sweep your arms overhead, bringing your hands together in a prayer position. For a deeper stretch through the right hip flexors, press down against the yoga wheel as you tuck your hips and engage the right glute muscles to open the front side of the hip and quadriceps. Repeat on the other side.
3. Half Splits Pose (Ardha Hanumanasana)
HOW TO DO IT: From the last pose, remove your right shin from the yoga wheel. Keep your right knee down on the mat. Position the yoga wheel in front of you and place your left calf on top for a hamstring stretch. Keep your hips level and squared forward and breathe deeply as you sink into this posture. Repeat on the other side.
NOTE: You can place yoga blocks on each side of the yoga wheel and put your hands on top for support.
4. Plank Pose (Phalakasana)
HOW TO DO IT: With the yoga wheel at the back of your mat, come into Plank pose with your hands shoulder-distance apart and shoulders stacked over wrists. Lifting one leg at a time, place your shins on the yoga wheel with toes pointed.
Prevent your belly or hips dropping toward the floor by pulling your navel to your spine. Keep your neck in a neutral position in line with your spine and remember to breathe. Maintain this pose for 10 to 30 breaths.
5. Pike Press to Handstand Variation (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
HOW TO DO IT: From plank pose, maintain strong arms as you pike your hips up toward the sky, drawing the wheel in toward your hands. Maintain a strong core and hold at the top for three to five breaths before lowering back down to plank pose on the yoga wheel.
If you want to take this pose to the next level, start in the pike position and lift the toes off the yoga wheel to press up into a handstand.
6. Spine Release
HOW TO DO IT: Sit with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor at hip-distance apart. Place the yoga wheel behind you. Keep your hips rooted as you lean back and bring your arms up toward the ceiling and then back behind you. Breathe and open the front of the body for a minimum of 10 breaths.
7. Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)
HOW TO DO IT: Begin kneeling with your knees slightly closer than hip-distance apart. Place the yoga wheel behind you, touching your feet. Push your feet into the floor and lift up as if you're growing taller before you begin to arch your back over the yoga wheel.
Press your knees down into the ground and your hip flexors forward as you arch back, bringing your hands through prayer position in the center of your chest and then overhead. If possible, bring your elbows to the floor and take hold of the wheel with both hands. Breathe deeply for at least five to 10 breaths. To come out of the pose, release your hands and inhale to lift the torso.
NOTE: Kapotasana is a deep backbend. Don't push or strain trying to get into this pose because it takes time to develop the flexibility in the ankles, quadriceps, hip flexors and shoulders. This pose also requires strength to actively perform the backbend and have the strength in the legs to rise up out of this position safely.
8. Supported Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana)
HOW TO DO IT: Begin in the spine-release position, seated with knees bent and feet flat on the floor and hip-distance apart. Lean back and roll over the yoga wheel. Tuck your chin toward your chest and come onto the top of the shoulders — not the neck!
With your hips stacked directly on top of the yoga wheel, squeeze your legs together and lift them up so your toes point toward the ceiling. Stay here and breathe 10 to 15 slow, deep breaths.
NOTE: You can place a folded blanket under your shoulders for support.
9. Plow Pose (Halasana)
HOW TO DO IT: From a supported shoulderstand, grab onto the yoga wheel and send your legs over your head. Don't collapse at the throat, but maintain space between your chin and chest to avoid excessive pressure on the cervical spine. Stay here for 10 to 15 breaths.
10. Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavishtha Konasana)
HOW TO DO IT: Come to a seated position with your legs spread wide apart. Externally rotate your thighs so your toes point up toward the sky. Hinge at the hips to bring the torso closer to the mat, placing your forehead on the yoga wheel. Relax and breathe deeply for two to five minutes in this restorative pose.
11. Reclined Easy Sitting Pose (Supta Sukhasana)
HOW TO DO IT: Come to easy sitting pose with legs crossed. Lean back against the yoga wheel and stretch your arms out to the side for a gentle and meditative heart opener. Relax in this posture for five to 10 minutes.
Now that you've got the basics down, go out and elevate your session with the yoga wheel. Namaste!