The Ultimate Backbend: How to Dropback to Wheel
No other yoga pose makes me feel more empowered and alive than a Dropback. What’s cool about it is it’s actually a transitional practice between two poses: Mountain and Wheel.
To make that transition fluidly requires a radical open-heartedness that teaches us how to face change with confidence and acceptance of the process. If we close down emotionally, mentally or physically, the whole experience collapses and becomes very uncomfortable and almost impossible.
Much like life, no?
Before You Start
To begin with we must be proficient at Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel) before we try this advanced entry into the pose. That means we need to be able to push up from the ground and hold the posture with straight arms for about a minute.
There’s more impact on the upper body when dropping back than when pushing up from the ground, so it’s best if we have no injuries or pain in our hands, wrists, elbows or shoulders.
If those boxes are checked and you’re ready to try a Dropback, here are a few key tips. (If you’re still scared, skip along to the bottom where I’ve laid out some intermediate steps to help you grow your confidence.)
Work Your Legs
Our legs are like the roots of a tree in this transition. They need to be strong, yet flexible, to handle the curve and movement created in the trunk as we drop back into Wheel pose.
- Keep parallel feet to avoid crunching your low back.
- Press down firmly into your feet to generate lift in your spine.
- Move your whole pelvis forward over your toes, as ballast, when you begin to curl back deeper in the transition.
- As you curl back even farther, bend your knees to give more flexibility to your spine.
- At the very end, unless you have quite flexible achilles, you’ll have to lift your heels as you reach for the ground. (see photo below)
Stay Courageously Open-Hearted
This practice requires tremendous trust and confidence in ourselves. If we collapse in the chest — which happens when we’re afraid — our backs flatten. This not only makes the ground farther out of reach, it also means we feel heavier in the pose.
- Lift your chest, press your head and shoulders back to begin the backbend in your upper back.
- Imagine curling over a giant beach ball, or an oak wine barrel, so you create a curved, rather than flat spine.
- Make your arms really active; spread your fingers, bend your elbows by your sides and push back with the head of your upper arm bones.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades into your upper back to support the backbend and to lift your heart up.
- Look for the ground; you need to see it before you reach out with your arms.
Intermediate Steps Towards Dropbacks
I know this is a big step, and we aren’t all ready to take it. If that’s the case, try out these suggestions to help build experience, strength and chutzpah.
- Practice curling back into Camel pose and then coming back up chest first, the whole time with elbows bent by your sides (as pictured above).
- From Tadasana (Mountain pose), reach for a wall, instead of the ground, then walk your hands down the wall to the ground to finish the transition.
- Push up into Urdhva Dhanurasana from the ground, then play with shifting your weight from feet to hands. This helps you loosen up and learn how to move in the pose with less fear and rigidity.
- Ask your most trusted teacher for a spot while you learn.
Special thanks to Steve Cox for taking these effing amazing photos!