I was never going to teach an urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose) workshop. For my entire teaching career, the idea of doing so was all but laughable. I integrated this pose into classes purely for students, if it was up to me, I wouldn’t even have taught it.
Early in my first year of teaching I was travelling in India. I received an adjustment in urdhva mukha savasana (upward facing dog) that jammed my lumbar vertebrae into each other with crushing intensity. This was a result of poor body knowledge on both our parts – me in not really knowing how to use my body to back bend with integration, and the teacher in not being able to see this in my body before giving such a strong adjustment.
What once had been one of my favorite poses, was now awful. It was both a swift and long lesson in being in relationship with my body. I have a very flexible body, and wheel pose was something I could do from day one of asana. Mostly because of my flexibility, and very little, even through graduating teacher training, due to my ability to integrate the actions of the pose. That lack of integration was very keenly felt in every wheel pose since that day. It grew until my favorite pose was my most hated pose. It got so bad that up until this past summer, I spent the previous two years grabbing a block for restorative setu bandhasana (bridge pose) when it was time to back bend in every yoga class I attended. Every. Single. One.
Throughout it all I tried to figure out what I was missing. I took workshops, I investigated in my home practice, I read, I looked at pictures, I discussed with fellow yoga teachers. I would have brief moments of feeling okay in wheel, but that would quickly pass. I was gathering bits and pieces of the puzzle, but nothing allowed the pose to click into place.
Then this summer I took Michael Stone’s Five-Day Intensive. Through a combination of new revelatory information, and finally integrating all those pieces – it finally clicked. I have not only practiced wheel pretty much every day since then, but it was integral in healing my shoulder.
Early in the summer I injured my shoulder to the point where downdog, or even extending my arms out in warrior two, were unthinkable. The afternoon after Michael workshopped my wheel pose with me, was the first afternoon my shoulder didn’t have its continual hum of ache and injury. It wasn’t a smooth magical upward trajectory continually from them, but it was the turning point. Combined with other asana and acupuncture shoulder work – the new integration, strength, and correct usage of my entire body in wheel pose were the corner stones of the healing of my shoulder.
Which is why – about seven years later – I’m holding a wheel workshop. Because that swift and long lesson has made me truly fall in love with urdhva dhanurasana – with its therapeutic qualities, its insistence on full-body integration and awareness, its necessary focus on the breath, and that inside-out upliftment that resonates in every cell when you come down.