Each week smile in the sky feature a different yoga pose and 5 physical health benefits and 5 mental health benefits related to it
This week…wheel pose. [Sanskrit translation: Chakrasana: chakr (wheel), asana (pose)].
In yoga it is said that your age is determined by the flexibility of the spine. In this pose there is nowhere to hide in this regard! Chakrasana displays the beauty and the art of yoga: there is always more to explore. Once you have mastered the wheel, you can experiment with walking the arms or legs in, try some dropbacks, and other extensions of this pose. Go slowly and with the instruction of a qualified teacher to avoid injury.
Physical benefit: SHOULDER FLEXIBILITY
This pose requires a high level of openness (and strength!), in the shoulders. Stretches against a wall (see no.3), can get deep into the muscles on the interior of the shoulder joint, in the underarms. See here for 16 stretches for tight shoulders. Downward dog, performed correctly, drawing the chest to the frontal thigh can help prepare these deep muscles for this back bend.
Mental benefit: INCREASED ENERGY
Wheel can be stimulating and invigorating, due partly to the massage given to the spinal cord: the nerve bundle located next to the spine that along with the brain makes up the Central Nervous System. A great pose to work up to if you’re feeling sluggish, however not recommended in evening classes if you fancy an early night!
Physical benefit:FRONTAL BODY STRETCH
The openness in the chest and lungs allows for maximum lung capacity to improve oxygen intake and C02 expulsion. Breathing long and deep ujjayi breaths will increase endurance in the pose and provide essential support for this strong back bend.
Mental benefit: INCREASED ALERTNESS
Inversions allow for blood to flow more freely to the head, potentially increasing the level of oxygenated blood reaching the brain. This may assist focus and concentration. See this article for how exercise can make your brain work better.
Physical benefit: HIP FLEXOR FLEXIBILITY
Strengthening of the hip flexors is crucial to protect these muscles/tendons and balance the stretch. See here for a preparatory sequence from the wonderful Rod Stryker.
Mental benefit: CONQUER FEARS
Opening the chest and heart can be a challenging experience for many who may feel vulnerable in this pose. See here for a Brene Brown’s TEDTalk with a different perspective on the positives of allowing yourself to be vulnerable, a central tenet of this inspiring woman’s teaching. Wheel pose can be a great way to face fears and boost your confidence.
Physical benefit: SPINAL FLEXIBILITY SACRUM TO SKULL
The obvious benefit of working towards this pose is increased mobility in the spine. With time and practice the hands can walk closer to the heels and vice versa, heightening the bend.
Mental benefit: SELF RELIANCE
Continued efforts to master this pose, displaying determination in unfamiliar circumstances can increase resilience and improve our sense of self-reliance, increasing trust in ourselves to commit to the practice and efforts needed to achieve our goals. See here for more tips on how to improve your self-reliance.
Physical benefit: WRIST STRENGTHENING
At first, many experience wrist pain in yoga due to the high level of weight bearing on the hands, from chaturanga dandasana, downward dog, to hand balances and beyond. It is best to gradually increase the length of practice, having breaks when necessary, and ensuring you perform counter poses and counter stretches wherever possible. With practice, as the tendons and muscles strengthen, the strain in the wrists will lessen and drop away. See here for a wrist – free yoga sequence and here for some wrist relaxers.
Mental benefit: EMOTIONAL RELEASE
Places in our bodies where we hold tension and tightness are typically where we are holding psychological energy. Opening the heart and releasing stiffness in the shoulder blades may allow for a release of emotional tension.
Enjoy experimenting with wheel pose, safely, and do a gentle or stronger forward bend counter-pose appropriate to your ability.
To learn more about the mind-body connection and ways to improve your mental health see www.smileinthesky.com for workshops for mental health, yoga, and research consultancy.
Next week…dancer’s pose [atarajasana]