The intermediate back bends of yoga, like Wheel Pose (urdhva dhanurasana) are some of the earliest “more advanced” poses students meet on their yoga journey. Getting into wheel is often seen as an important turning point in a student’s life. But, in yoga as in life, just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
Being able to get into progressively deeper back bends like wheel does not necessarily mean the student is connected to the process the pose represents. It’s possible to just force your way into the pose, and then grunt, struggle, and push while in it. This is not the spirit of yoga. Yoga is not about pushing, trying hard, or forcing. Yoga teaches us to listen to when our bodies are ready to enter poses, and the way we hone our listening is by progressing from smaller to deeper back bends. Forrest Yoga sequences are designed to warm up and open the body one layer at a time in a progressive fashion.
Something I’ve noticed from taking yoga classes around the world is that wheel pose is often offered at the end of a yoga practice with little warm up specific to the pose. A well sequenced yoga practice focuses on poses that lead to an apex, and prepare the body to blossom into that final pose. The point of the apex is not to “do it” but to take the journey towards it and listen to the body and the breath on the way. If there is an obstacle, be it breath or fear or tightness in the body, we work where we are. The obstacle is not something to move around, ignore, or push through but a teacher who is saying “stay here and work on this lesson a little bit longer. When you are ready, you will get the next lesson.”
Back bends teach me patience, deep listening, breath, and acceptance of where I am. They also teach me that sometimes practice appears not to move forward, and that this is when I need to sharpen my attention even more, because there is a deeper lesson.