Upward facing bow, or urdhva dhanurasana, is a beautiful pose. Just seeing it makes me sigh with a feeling of joy. It’s a pose that I want to be able to do, and something that I remember doing as a child, just for fun, when I was the child that rarely ever did anything physical. But, something isn’t right in my practice when it comes to this pose. The same thing happens to me with camel pose (ustrasana) and bow pose (dhanurasana), though not quite to the same extent as with wheel.
It’s not that when practice starts I am thinking “oh, I don’t want to do wheel.” I really don’t think about it until it gets close to backbend time in the class flow. And, then I start checking how I feel, trying to decide if it’s a good day or a bad day to try one. I double check my plans after class, knowing that a lot of backbending does seem to affect my ability to sleep (so, if it’s too close to bedtime, maybe I can reasonably opt out?). I also hope, more than just a little, that the teacher just won’t say anything about doing urdhva dhanurasana at all. And then, we go into bridge pose. All good. I can do that. Not a problem. But next… DUM DUM DUM, wheel. Crap.
I bring my hands back by my shoulders, and immediately something feels wrong. I’m not sure they are quite in the right position. Why are my fingers pointing off to the side a little. Should they be? No, that’s too much in. Ok, check the elbows. Fine. You know, maybe I just won’t go up. Maybe I’ll just stay right here. I could stay right here.
And I push up, and my body remembers how to get me into that position. And then, within a second, I start to feel this struggle in my chest. I’m pretty sure that I’m still breathing, but there is a sense of body panic. I immediately start to wonder if I can come back down yet. I try to focus on what my alignment is like, knowing pretty well that my feet are splaying out and I need to bring them in. That pulls me together for a second or two, and then the panic comes sweeping back in. What is that?
I keep wondering whether this is about my physical body or my emotional body. Is the issue my inability to do a good wheel, or is the issue my fear of opening up my heart, of exposing my soft underside to the world. Maybe, in this shape, I feel a little bit like a turtle that’s been turned over on its back and all its protection is gone. Perhaps this is also related to my tendency to round my upper back and pull my shoulders in, creating a little protective cave for my front body.
Or, you know, maybe it’s none of that. Maybe it’s not about anything psychological at all and my sternum, ribs, and abdomen just don’t like to stretch in that way. Maybe six or so years of yoga just isn’t enough to get that opened up on me and I need to not over think it and just keep at it. Or maybe it’s not a pose that is meant for me and I need to stop worry about it.
I just don’t know. And that, for me, isn’t the most comfortable place to be either.