In recent years, a new toy has been appearing more and more frequently in yoga studios across America. It is something has gained widespread recognition among yogis, and even some celebrities have jumped in on the trend, with good reason. This new prop is extremely versatile and allows even the newest yogis to expand their practice, loosen their muscles, and create length where it did not exist before. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I am talking about the yoga wheel.
What is the Yoga Wheel?
The yoga wheel is the relatively “new kid on the block” when it comes to yoga props. At first glance, this circular gadget can seem quite intimidating. It is made of rigid plastic and typically has a layer of cushioning around the outside to make it more comfortable to use. The original and most popular brand is the Dharma Yoga Wheel, which was created by Sri Dharma Mittra and his son Yogi Varuna. It comes in various sizes: “mini” for those practitioners who are under 5 feet tall, “basic” for average sized yogis and “plus” for those who are over 6 feet tall. It is also a wonderful tool created to help stretch the front body including the abdomen, chest, shoulders, and hips. The wheel is designed to match the contour of the spine. It is a very therapeutic tool that can be used to create space and lengthen the muscles of the body.
Is the Yoga Wheel Right for You?
Yes! This is one prop that is truly right for everyone. No matter where you are in your practice, you can most definitely benefit from using the wheel. Not only does it properly align your spine, but it can also assist you in certain poses and even enhance your flexibility. So it is important to remember that even though the wheel may seem like it is only for advanced practitioners, it can be extremely helpful for beginners who may just want to release tension and start to open the body. It is a wonderful supporting prop and great alternative to a yoga block in those postures where the hands might not meet the floor or the full weight of the body needs to be supported.
Where Can You Purchase a Yoga Wheel?
Five Ways to Properly Use the Yoga Wheel
1. Spine Massage
The yoga wheel is amazing for realigning the spine and easing tension around the vertebrae. As mentioned above, its design matches the contour of the spine, so you can use this along the entire length of the spine, from the sacrum (or lower back bone) all the way to the crown of the head. This is probably one of the most basic yet effective ways to use the wheel. As a culture, many of us are usually sedentary, which causes our shoulders to hunch forward, but using the wheel to massage the spine encourages the opposite to occur. It helps to open the chest and allow the shoulders to reset to their natural position.
In order to use the wheel as a spinal massager, sit on the floor and bring the wheel directly behind you so that it connects to your lower back, or sacrum. Bringing the soles of the feet to the ground, inhale and lift your arms overhead. As you exhale, press evenly through the feet and lean back onto the wheel. You may lift your hips and rock yourself back and forth while the wheel rolls along the spine.
2. Enhancing Your Backbends
If you’re looking to move deeper into backbends and increase the strength and flexibility of the lower back, the wheel is the perfect tool. Even just lying on the wheel in a supported shoulder stand (with the wheel placed directly under the sacrum) is the perfect way to release tension in the low back. Remember in order to continue to move deeper, you will have to focus on breath work, allowing each exhalation to release any stiffness as you relax into a deeper variation. Backbend poses that can be done with the wheel include a camel pose variation, bow pose, forearm stands, and the pigeon pose variation.
3. Improving Your Balance
For those of us who need exercises in balancing, the wheel can give you a hand. First, make sure you are practicing on a soft surface, such as carpet or grass, or even a padded yoga mat. If you’re still feeling unstable, you can also hold onto a wall to prevent injury.
To practice balancing, bring both feet to the top of the wheel in a squatting position. Lean forward and hold the ground for support, especially when you first start this practice. Eventually, once you feel more comfortable on top of the wheel, you can begin to move into more advanced standing poses and even inversions (one day!). Practicing balance on top of the wheel is a wonderful way to work the core and to enhance coordination, build strength, and increase agility.
4. Increasing Your Flexibility
By using the wheel to roll out your muscles, you are physically creating length. The muscles become less rigid and tense, and as a result, they can bend further. You may notice differences in your backbends, hip openers, and shoulder mobility exercises as you use the wheel on a more regular basis.
5. Providing a Stable Anchor For Inversions
If you are working on a forearm stand, the wheel is an amazing base. It gives you something to grip so that you may begin to apply equal pressure in your forearms. This even pressure between both forearms and the ground allows you to lift through the shoulders, the solar plexus, and the pelvic floor. All of these parts should be actively engaged so that the legs float up seamlessly. Here, the wheel simply allows us to have proper alignment and ensures that all of the correct muscles are being used.