Hi, I am Sarah Ezrin, and I am addicted to deep back bending.
For years, I couldn’t quit Urdhva Dhanurasana, commonly known as Wheel or Upward Facing Bow. I was hooked from my very first yoga class. No backbend could compete with pressing my arms and legs straight while opening my chest to the heavens.
When I started standing up and dropping back from the pose, all bets were off. I would do the tick-tock-like sequence at the end of each practice and buzz, as if I’d downed an entire pot of coffee. It was thrilling.
The signs of addiction were there since I first started practicing. First, I was powerless. I had to do Urdhva Dhanurasana in order to feel complete. It didn’t matter if I did any other backbends; nothing else was able to satisfy me.
Next, I abused the pose. In her book, Mind Body Spirit, master teacher Donna Farhi says that backbends are “powerful healers, and like all strong medicine, they have the potential to be injurious if practiced without discretion.” I definitely over-dosed on my medicine.
Finally, what I realize now is that I put my body at risk for the sake of a shape. Wheel was easy for me at first, because I could come into it by literally dislocating my arms from their socket. (Are you squirming? Chances are you do the same thing. In fact, most of us do.) Do this for a few years and it may not make a difference; continue doing this decade after decade and your shoulders will likely pay the price.
After years of abusing deep backbends, I have come to a new appreciation for the entire spectrum of this family of postures. I finally understand the importance of each variation of backbends, and understand that “going deeper” is not synonymous with overexertion. In fact, what I now know to be true is that in yoga, “going deeper” means being more mindful, more kind, and often doing less.
Urdhva Dhanurasana is not the be all and end all of backbends. In fact, it is only the beginning. There are a number of other backbends that are even healthier for most bodies. If you’re like me, it’s OK to hold a special place in your heart for Urdhva Danurasana. But get to ready to have your world—and your heart—blasted wide open with these 7 amazing alternatives to Wheel Pose.