Wheel pose is what I like to call a “breakthrough” pose that, once you can achieve the full pose, it opens up a whole new set of poses! In that way, it is worth practicing regularly to advance your backbends and optimize a healthy and mobile back.
For men who have stronger or tighter shoulders and backs, reaching wheel pose without props will take some time. Luckily, there are tools to give guys leverage in this pivotal pose. If the arms are not yet straight in wheel, you can use remedial variations to help take pressure off of the wrists and to protect your lower back, where it tends to be hyper-mobile, while you work to open your upper and mid back, where the spine tends to be more stuck.
Here they are:
Wheel With Blocks
Set up your blocks shoulder-width apart and at an angle against the wall. Lie on your back with your hands on the blocks and your feet hip-width apart and under your knees. Lift up onto the top of your head first, and pump your chest towards the wall and your shoulders back. Press your hands against the block to lift your head off the mat and work your arms towards straight. On the way down, keep your inner-thighs setting down towards the floor at an even rate as your outer thighs. Do not let your feet angle out.
Wheel With A Blanket
Just like you set up wheel with the blocks, this time take a rolled up blanket and wedge it between the wall and the floor. This is a great one, if placing your hands on the blocks is awkward. With the blanket, you just grab ahold of the blanket roll. Use good alignment as you lift up and work your chest towards the wall.
Wheel Against The Wall
Once you are working with straight arms comfortably with the props, you can move towards palms flat on the mat, with the base of your wrist wedged between the floor and the wall. Just as if you were using props, work towards getting your arms vertical and your chest towards the wall.
Once you have got these variations down, and your arms are straight, you can move away from the wall. Once you are at this stage, you might find that you will come back to the remedial variations because they work really well to prevent any strain or discomfort.
Your core is your powerhouse. Guys, it’s worth building your core muscles, because all of the yoga poses require core engagement to keep you steady and safe with good alignment. Working on core is fun and challenging. The key to core-work is to keep your core working without letting yourself to misalign. While it is tempting to challenge yourself to achieve 100 crunches, yoga isn’t a competition. If your back or hip-flexors are hurting, it’s not worth it. Be honest with yourself, fire-up your core and have fun!
Core flow for men:
Table-Top, Knee to Chest
From hands and knees, inhale extend one leg back lifting from the inner thigh. As you exhale, draw your knee towards your chest and forehead to your knee.
Plank, Knee to Tricep
Make sure your wrists are under your shoulders and your back is lengthening. Do not let your hips drop, so you are a plank shape the whole time. Inhale, lift one leg off the floor and exhale pull your knee to the corresponding tricep.
Interlace your fingers like a headstand so you are on the edges of your forearms with your elbows under your inner shoulder. Look towards your feet and keep your hips lifted enough to maintain a flat plank shape in your back. Keep this alignment as you lift one leg, then the other.
This pose is important to counter the core work and give your hip-flexors a break. Lengthen your spine as you backbend.
From chair pose, bring your palms to touch and sit deeply as you twist to one side and then the other. Do not let your elbow touch your thigh. Hollow your belly, drive your tailbone towards the floor and keep your hips and knees even while you twist. Look over the shoulder you are twisting towards.
Sit tall, lengthen your low back and lift your chest. Bring your feet and knees to touch and bend your knees. Just like chair, keep your knees even as you exhale, twist. If you feel in your low back or hip flexors, lower your feet to the floor and come out of the pose.
From navasana, interlace your fingers behind your head and slowly straighten your legs, point your feet and canoe your back down so your shoulders and legs hover off the floor. With an inhale, bring yourself back up to navasana with the knees bent, and your low back lengthening.
Another crucial counter pose to all of the core exercises. Place your feet hips-width apart and your feet point straight forward. Place your hands behind you on the floor as wide as your shoulders. Angle your fingers towards the upper-corners of your mat. Lift your chest, then lift your hips high. Anchor your heels down, lengthen your knees forward and lift the hips powerfully.
Reverse Warrior to Side Angle, Core Flow
In reverse warrior, take your back hand across the front of your body as if you were pushing the front wall away from you. Maintain length in your back and make sure your front knee bends fully and widens towards the outer edge of the mat. Come into side angle pose and create length in your spine. Maintaining the length in your back, reach your bottom hand across the front of your body towards your back foot.
From plank, rotate onto your hand and side of foot. Engage your feet, lift your hips and lengthen down through the feet and up through the crown of your head.
Extend both arms by your ears, interlace the fingers and work your arms and legs straight. Rotate your bottom ribs towards the ceiling and look up. Only extend both arms if you could keep the hips square towards the side edge of your mat and avoid any collapse in the back or shoulders.
Mindful Yoga Crunches
Lie on your back with your toes and knees pointing straight up. Interlace your fingers behind your head, and as you exhale lift your shoulders and head off the floor and look at your toes. Make sure your feet and knees stay pointing straight up and you only lift as much as you need to feel engagement in your core. Pause at the top of every exhale to feel the burn in your belly.
Yoga Bicycle Core
Lie on your back and interlace your finger behind your head. Lift your knees up, until they are right over your hips. Lift your shoulders off the mat. Extend one leg straight to hover off the floor. Extend the corresponding arm across the bent knee, as if you were shaking someones hand. As you exhale, twist the elbow that in still on your head, across the body towards the straight leg side.
Another important counter pose to release the hip-flexors and back. Place your feet hips width apart under your knees. Press your feet down to lift your hips and low-back up. Clasp your hands underneath you and walk your shoulders up, and underneath you. From your hips, lengthen down through your knees and root your feet down. From your hips, lengthen your back and open your chest. Keep your chin vertical.
Bend your knees towards the chest and hold your shins just below the knee caps. Press your shins up against your hands and press the back of your head down like bridge. You should feel a little curve in your low-back as you rock back and forth.
Guys, spring is a great time to detox your body, and get revved up for the summer. It’s natural to feel heavy after a long winter. Now is the time to get light, both in your body and mind. In this session, you will work twists to wring-out and cleanse your body. I will give tools for men to get leverage in these poses and really find the depth and benefit in them.
Here Are The Key Actions For Men In Twists:
Thread The Needle: Thread your top arm through the other. Make sure you keep your hips level so that it remains a twist, rather than a turn.
Locust: Lengthen your spine, straighten your legs and arms as you lift up. Make sure you stretch forward and back to maintain length as you backbend.
Down Dog: Keep the entire perimeter of your hands anchored down with a little lift underneath the very base of your wrists. As much as you can keep that little lift, work your arms straight and send your chest towards your thighs.
Chair Twist: Bring one hand to your thigh and use it as leverage to hook your opposite arm across the thigh. When you reach your arm up, lengthen that side long and round your upper-back to twist across the body.
Lunge Twist: Just like the chair twist, bring your hand on your front thigh, reach your opposite arm overhead as high as you can and use the hand on your thigh to twist your arm across deeply. Once you’re in the twist, you can look down for balance to straighten the back leg.
Side Angle: Reach your bottom arm to the inside of your front foot, so your arm presses against your inner knee. Press your arm against your knee and knee against your arm to open your chest and set your shoulders back.
Triangle: With your legs straight, touch down with your bottom hand, just to the outside of the center of your front shin. If your shoulders slouch, use a block. Press your bottom wrist or forearm against your outer shin to anchor the inner-edge of your front foot and open your chest towards the wall you’re facing.
Wide Angle Twist: Make sure your weight is evenly distributed in both feet. That’s how you will know that your hips are level. Keeping that, reach your hand across the body for the opposite shin or thigh, whatever you can get ahold of. Take the other hand above your head on the floor, and keeping your hips level, pull yourself under the extended arm.
½ Split Twist: If your front leg is straight, and you want more challenge, reach your opposite hand (if your right leg is forward, reach your left arm across and vice-versa) across the shin, and press your forearm against the outer shin to hold it in place. Keep your front toes and knee pointed straight up as you open your chest towards the wall you’re twisting towards. Literally put your chest forward. Once your chest faces the side wall, reach your top arm up.
Pigeon Thigh Stretch: It is a twist and a hint of a backbend. Make sure you set your top shoulder back, and keep the weight even on your back thigh.
Briggid’s Cross: Create a 90 degree angle with your legs. Stack your hips, as you lower down onto your forearms. With your elbows under shoulders, drag your forearms on the floor towards your legs to pull your chest forward and anchor your front outer hip under.
Twisted Triangle: When you twist, keep your hips square and your legs straight. Send your bottom chest way forward towards the direction you’re twisting. Once your chest faces the wall you’re twisting towards, reach your top arm up.
Twisted ½ moon: Just like twisted triangle, keep your hips square and send your bottom shoulder forward towards the wall you’re twisting towards.
Seated Twist: When you twist, widen your bent knee against your arm to send your chest forward.
Whether you are an athlete, or if you work a desk job, you are binding your hips. If you do not take the time to stretch and open them up, you will start to have bigger problems throughout your body. Tight hips can create torque on the knee joints and could result in low-back pain. This session is specifically designed for men to align their lower body optimally and open the hips efficiently.
Hip-opening is one of the most challenging areas for men to target. They take time and patience to open. You have to hold hip-openers and breath into that area where you feel a deep, achy release. Take your time, and be sure you do the work with integrity. If you stick with it, your hips will open up.
Below are the specific variations for men to align and open their hips and get out of pain.
Key Action: Set your upper-thighs back.
Make sure the center of your wrists are under your outer shoulder. For men with broader shoulders, this means your pinky-fingers may be off the mat. As you inhale, set your upper-thighs back to create a broadening across the low-back.
Keep the legs straight to set your thighs back, so you are a plank shape throughout the entire progression.
Lift your legs up from the inner-thighs so that the legs are not rolling in or out as you lift up.
Keep the weight even on the center of your thighs as you pull your chest forward and up.
Bend your knees half-way towards the floor. Look at your feet, and make sure they are about hips-width apart and that they point straight forward. Widen your knees as wide as your heels. Set your upper thighs back, until you feel a lift out of your pelvis in the low-back. Only as much as you can keep that lift, stretch your heels towards the floor.
Make sure the feet point straight forward and the feet are hips-width apart. Bend your knees as much as you have to to touch the floor in front of your feet, and eliminate strain in the low-back. Keep your upper thighs over the center of your heels.
Bring your hands to your hips, work your legs straight and waistline back as you come up to stand.
Step your feet hips-width (about two-fists width) apart. Make sure your feet point straight forward. Bend your knees deeply. Look at your knees and make sure the center of your kneecap points over your second toe-mound. Set your thighs back and lift your low-back out the pelvis as you stretch your arms overhead. Soften your front ribs and tone your belly.
Angle your front foot away from the center of your mat 45 degrees. Make sure the knee points the same direction as the toes. Roll onto the outer edge of your front foot and engage your foot. Without moving your front foot, set the outer edge of your foot back, outer shin back, inner thigh back, and front outer hip back.
Twisted Thigh Stretch
Draw your back heel towards your outer hip and drag your back-knee forward to lift the back upper-thigh towards your heel – as if they were magnetic. As you twist the upper-body open, be sure you do not shift the weight onto the outer back knee.
Make sure you flex the foot of the top foot that is across your thigh. Press your hand against the foot to remind it to engage. Set your inner-thighs down and back to create a deep opening in your outer hip.
Bend your front knee right over your front ankle and widen your front knee. Set your back thigh back evenly and tack your front hip under. Stretch your low back out of the pelvis.
Wide Angle Forward-Fold
Your feet should point straight forward and even with one another. Keep your weight even in both your heels and the balls of the feet. Work your legs straight as you fold forward. Set the in-seams of your legs back till you create a lift out of your pelvis in the low-back.
Keep your back foot parallel with the back edge of the mat and your hips square towards the side-wall that you are facing. Set your back upper thigh back and your front hip spiraling under. Stretch your top arm by your ear and lengthen the top side of your torso laterally.
Stamp your back foot down heavy and legs fully straight. Lengthen your back and reach your top arm towards the ceiling.
Point your feet diagonally towards the corner edges of the mat. Make sure your knees point the same direction as your feet. Set your thighs down and back. Keep a little arch in your low-back. Tone your belly and soften your front ribs.
Bring your front knee towards the side edge of your mat. Level your hips. Point your front foot and flick the toes against the floor to protect your knee. Set your front inner thigh back and your front outer hp back.
As you draw your foot back into baby cradle, make sure you engage your foot. Flex the foot that is in your elbow crease. Your extended leg is straight and rooting down. If your hips are tighter, modify by taking the top shin across your opposite thigh like a figure-four.
Place your feet hips-width apart and your knees as wide as your feet. Stamp your heels down and lift your hips completely.
Root your hips down evenly and lengthen your back as you twist over your extended lieg and fold. If your leg lifts up or if your low-back rounds under, stay more upright.
Bend both knees and bring your soles of feet to touch. If your knees are above your hips, bring your feet further away from you and either sit up on a block or lean back with your hands behind you. Widen your knees apart, set your thighs down towards the floor and back. Hollow your belly and lift your low back.
It has long been known that ballet classes help football players increase their flexibility, agility, speed and endurance on the field, but did you know that yoga can be another important part of cross-training for an athlete? More professional athletes from football, soccer and baseball are turning to yoga to help them recover from injury as well as boost their performance on the field.
Jake Panasevich, a former wrestler turned yoga trainer whose clientele includes the MLS Philadelphia Union, has made it his mission to make yoga more accessible for men and athletes. Any preconceptions you might have about yoga being just for women or just for those who are looking for more spiritual healing will fly out the window when you meet him. Panasevich strongly believes that men, specifically male athletes, can benefit a lot from yoga class.
How did you get involved in yoga? I have been an athlete all my life, playing soccer, but mostly wrestling. I wrestled from the age of 6 into college. Afterwards, I was left with lots of injuries and chronic back pain.
I got dragged to my first yoga class by an ex girl-friend. After two months of yoga, the pain had subsided and I had lost 40 lbs. There was no denying the results. I have been teaching yoga now for about 7 years, but it has only been the past 2 years that I have been focusing on teaching yoga to men and athletes.
Is yoga still dominated by women? It is shifting, getting better. I came to yoga, hesitant knowing it would be 98% women. It was intimidating. Women tend to be more flexible. Not every yoga teacher knows how to work with tighter, bigger guys with lots of injuries. It took me years to get the right teachers, the right training.
How did you get to work with the Philadelphia Union? It all happened through the help of a friend of mine at Lululemon who knows some of the players. They came to a class and loved it and then we talked to Kevin Miller, Union’s fitness coach, and he was very supportive of the idea. I worked with them last season and now we are trying to get started again for this season. We are figuring it out as we go.
In what specific ways does yoga help athletes perform better? Yoga helps with both injury prevention and the relieving of pain due to current injuries. I have also received a lot of feedback about how it helps athletes with body fluidity. They feel more balance and are able to open their bodies more, and perform more optimally.
The basic yoga poses first gets them more mobile and aware of their biomechanics, and then they are able to push their bodies to see how far they can take it. I focus on modifying the poses for each athlete’s specific limitations and injuries. That took me awhile to figure out for myself.
Grounding them and connecting them to their breath is also important. As athletes, they are always going at a fast pace. It is good to be still. To get grounded.
What have been the biggest influences that have shaped your philosophy on yoga? Growing up as an athlete and being a coach/teacher has definitely shaped me. So has the different yoga training I have taken including Vinyasa, Hot Yoga, and more alignment-based yoga. I pull from different modalities to create a unique yoga experience.
Panasevich teaches classes at local yoga studios as well as works with individuals and teams. To get a class schedule, check out his website.