Turns out it's the Yoga Wheel, and turns out it's everywhere. So much so that even celebrities have been Instagraming their wheel-inclusive asana practices. And even if you're not into Instagram (or late '90s pop stars), you might have noticed a yoga wheel or two showing up at workshops, festivals, or even in class. But the trend factor aside, what's the deal with the wheel? Can it really strengthen and support your backbend practice? And can you use it for other types of poses as well?
Wait, what is it exactly?
The Shakti Yoga Wheel can be used tons of different ways, and offers a myriad of benefits, including back/shoulder/chest opening and quad/hip flexor stretching. It's also been touted as a balance-enhancer and a tool for making challenging backbends and arm balances more accessible. But does it "work"? Is it worth the hundred dollar price tag?
- Take some time to acclimate to the wheel, and learn how to use it. (Watching the instructional video really helps!)
When I first spotted the wheel on Instagram, I noticed a lot of supported kapotasanas (pigeon pose), I eagerly anticipated that it would help make this challenging pose more doable for me. Only when I first tried it (initially coming into the pose via camel, as I normally would, with the wheel behind me), it was actually harder—harder! Frustrated, I was ready to admit pigeon defeat, until I fortunately came upon the aforementioned tutorial. It offered what I found to be a much more accessible approach to entering a wheel-enhanced pigeon (from a supported supta virasana), and a handy tip about holding below the opposite elbow (to help you catch hold of the wheel). For the first time in my life, I was able to do a version of full pigeon! And it was actually pretty comfortable too.
- It's a great tool for practicing forearm stands.
You might not think "extra stability" when you think of "holding onto a wheel," Shakti Yoga Wheel was SUPER-helpful for forearm balancing. "It makes a massive difference," my friend Brittany says. "It's a great go-to for finding your balance in the pose because you can actually use the wheel itself to counterbalance falling by [gently] pressing the back of your head into it."
Plus, we both discovered that when it comes to backbendy forearmstands like vrischikasana (scorpion pose) and hollowbacks, the wheel can be especially useful.
Other things to keep in mind about wheel-assisted forearmstands:
Make sure you hold onto the side of the wheel that's closest to you.
- Where this prop really shines? Making challenging backbends more accessible.
While it's not only for backbending, the Shakti YogaWheel really shines when it comes to making challenging backbends more accessible. While "challenging backbend" can mean all sorts of things depending on the practitioner and their individual practice and body proportions, the wheel is a useful preparatory tool and prop for all kinds of backbends—from bridge pose to full pigeon, to everything in between.
In fact, the first time I laid back over the wheel I couldn't help but notice that I was practically in urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow pose). One of my favorite ways to teach urdhva dhanurasana is to prep students with three yoga blocks—two blocks at their lowest height stacked horizontally underneath the shoulder blades, with the other block horizontally at its lowest height supporting the head. From here, the student is already "halfway there," and pressing up into urdhva can seem less daunting. I could easily see how a yoga wheel could serve a similar purpose.
All in all, the wheel can both provide you with a great way to prepare for backbends (rolling, practicing simple supported shapes), as well as some sweet support when working into poses you find more challenging.
- It may trick you into some core work.
So we've clearly established that yoga wheels can be pretty useful when it comes to backbends. But what about non-backbendy poses?
While a quick look at Brittany`s videos will provide examples of all sorts of asanas, admittedly it sometimes seems that the prop is just there to "be there," as opposed to actually supporting or enhancing a pose in some way. Still, aside from backbends, the SYW is also pretty boss when it comes to sneaking in some extra core stabilization.
Whilst experimenting with the wheel you will find out that incorporating it into balance poses—opposite arm/leg extension, planks, standing balance poses, even mountain pose – it is a great way to add in some extra challenge and core stability.
- It's also pretty great for learning to press up into handstand.
The more we collaborated and experimented with the wheel, the more we figured out new and interesting ways to incorporate it into our favorite (and not so favorite) poses. And some of them were, honestly, pretty useful.
Like take handstand-press, for example, a transition Brittany and I are both working on, and both find pretty challenging.
So, what's the verdict? Is the wheel worth it?
The Shakti Yoga Wheel is a pretty useful tool to have around when it comes to working with backbends in particular (though it does certainly have other uses). It's versatile enough to be accessible for a variety of skill levels, and teachers may find it especially useful when it comes to working with private clients or small groups.
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