detail + depth: breaking down tick tocks

DETAIL + DEPTH, created by Hyde Ambassador Ellen Huang Saltarelli, is a series featuring key preparations, modifications, and variations dedicated to a single pose or physical theme. This week we’ll dive deep into Modified Reverse Wheel Pose (Tick Tock) or Viparita Chakrasana.

Downward Facing Dog is one of the quintessential poses of yoga, and a great place to start almost any practice. In particular, for this practice leading to our peak pose Viparita Chakrasana (Tick Tock), it will help prepare the body with chest and shoulder opening. Although Down Dog can be considered a Forward Fold due to its pelvic flexion, it can also fall in the Backbending category of poses due to shoulder extension. Downdog helps to open the chest and shoulders for both Full Wheel and Handstand, two poses that are necessary to do Tick Tock.

To take Down Dog, start on the hands and knees in a tabletop position, with the hands approximately shoulder width apart, and feet hip distance apart. Press the hands down, lift the knees, and pull the hips back. Come forward into Plank Pose to measure the distance of hands and feet. Again, pull the hips back for Down Dog. The legs can bend to begin with, but over time, if appropriate, work toward straight legs. Press the inner hands down to relieve pressure on the outer wrists. Squeeze the forearms in unless there is hyperextension of the elbows, in which case, place a belt around the forearms and push out into the strap. This can help straighten the arms. Lift the inner shoulders up and wrap the outer shoulders down. Take a light Uddhiyana Bandha to absorb the lumbar spine into the body. Reach the outer hips back and the heels down. Release the head, stay and breathe.

Speaking of backbending prep for Tick Tocks, this next pose will stretch the quadriceps, abdomen, and chest, and strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and quadratus lumborum (low back muscles).

1. Start on the back for Bridge Pose. Bend the knees, lift the hips, and place a tall block vertically under the sacrum along the tailbone. If this feels too high, lower the block. With the palms down, straighten the arms along the length of the mat. Press the inner hands down and lift the side chest. Do this by squeezing the inner shoulder blades toward the spine. If appropriate for the shoulders and chest, interlace the fingers. Press the inner feet down and lengthen the quadriceps froward toward the knees. Gently draw the pubic bone toward the navel to keep the pubis facing the ceiling. Stay and breathe. 

2. Moving from a passive to a more active stretch, press the feet and arms down and lift the hips off the block. Lengthen the outer legs by hugging the inner thighs toward the center. Gently squeeze the glutes to help lift the hips. Continue to roll the outer shoulders down toward the floor to feel the breadth and lift of the chest. Stay and breath. 

3. Lift the right leg, point the foot, and use the hand to take the foot back toward the shoulder. Lower the hips to the block. Aim the tailbone toward the back of the knees with the same vigor as the right knee reaching down to the floor. Stay and breathe, then switch sides. 

I love exercises (not exercising, but exercises…)

This repetitive exercise offers a fun place to explore, feel, and play. The physical practice of yoga gives us an opportunity to move mindfully, and use its various aspects – breath, sensations in the body, the mind’s reaction to the experience – as an object of meditation. It is also allows us to be our own healer/caregiver/guide/teacher/partner and anyone else we go to in hopes of giving us something we need. How do we do this?

First, we need to allow ourselves the freedom to be curious and explore. Start asking the body questions. In Bridge Pose, what must engage to lift the body off the floor? What happens when you press down through the inner feet versus outer feet? If I open my feet wider, does that create more or less space in the low back? Don’t assume you know the answers based on what the teacher says in yoga class, or what your anatomy training would have you believe. With this experiential learning comes awareness and the ability to listen to the body. Then later, we can ask our body deeper questions: where does this pain come from? How I can heal?

For now, learning what actions cause which reactions in the body will teach us that there is no absolute one way to do something. Instead, it is about understanding what we are trying to achieve, and then employing the actions for the desired outcome. This is yoga as play, and yoga as medicine. Stay and breathe.

Handstands. They can be done on the hands, feet, belly, or back. The sooner we stop believing poses can only be practiced one way, the sooner we can use our practice to heal.

This one is done on the back. Use a shoulder-width belt around the wrists to emphasize strong, straight arms. Use the contact of the backbody on the floor to sense how much the kidneys press forward and whether the pelvis begins to tilt forward/anteriorly as you take the arms overhead. Straighten the legs and press the big toe mounds forward. Stay and breathe.

Next, if appropriate, take the handstand onto the hands. Use a wall, chair, block between the thighs, or whatever props may assist you in this pose. Or, try playing with kicking up in the center of the room. Look for the same shape as the handstand on the back in the previous pose. Stay and breathe, then lightly land on the feet. Rest.

In Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar demonstrates Viparita Chakrasana as jumping off both feet in Full Wheel, passing through “handstand,” and again landing on the feet in a forward fold. This can then be taken back to the starting pose by kicking both feet up, very briefly passing through a handstand, and then landing in Full Wheel Pose. It is something I have never been able to do, but have always felt drawn to try! This DETAIL + DEPTH approaches Tick Tock by using a wall and stepping the feet up one at a time. 

While this is easier than the immense front body strength required to jump from Full Wheel, the front of thigh stretch is accentuated due to the asymmetry of the legs. Similar to Hanuman, Wheel with One Leg lifted, or Crescent Lunge, splitting the legs intensifies the backbend.

To prepare for this challenge, start with good ole Crescent Lunge. Emphasize a strong, straight back leg by pushing through the inner heel and lifting the inner thigh. If there is limited range of motion in this quads stretch, it will be difficult to bend the front knee to 90 degrees. Use this as information to see how the body presents itself today. Everyday is different. Stay and breathe, then switch sides.

Next in the sequence to Tick Tocks are backbends on a chair. This setup can be complicated for those unfamiliar with props. It requires a chair, two straps, a stack of blankets, and an extra yoga mat.

Fold a thin yoga mat into quarters and place it on the seat of a backless yoga chair. This will provide both traction and comfort against the cold, slick surface of the seat. Tie a belt around the top of the chair. Sit facing the back of the chair and tie a second belt around the mid-thighs so that the feet are hip-width apart. Hold onto the sidebars of the chair and slide in the direction of the knees until the back is on the chair seat. Use the stickiness of the mat to catch the skin at the top of the shoulders to help release the trapezius muscles. Place the lower edge of the shoulder blades against the chair seat. Support the head with a stack of blankets. (This may require coming out of the pose to add or remove blankets.) Straighten the legs if possible. Finally, hold the tail of the first belt and extend the arms overhead.

Lift the sides of the pubic bone toward the navel as the tailbone gently reaches toward the back of the knees. Press down through the heels and widen the legs into the strap. Press the inner heels forward and reach back and down with straight arms. Stay and breathe.

Next lift one leg and wrap the tail of the belt around the sole of the foot. Pull on the strap and kick the foot up. Take deep breaths, then switch sides.

Same idea as the previous pose, but less prop support. Less prop support = more self support, which can be a great thing when the body is ready. 

To take this pose, place a sticky mat on a chair seat. For more security, place the chair against a wall so that when you push up into the backbend, the chair can’t slide out from under the feet. Come onto the back and place the feet at the edge of the chair seat. Place the hands next to the ears with the fingers pointing toward the chair. Hug the elbows in by engaging the serratus muscles at the outer ribs under the armpits. Push the hands down and lift the chest, as if coming into Bridge Pose. If possible, lift into the pose with one breath. Otherwise, lift to the crown of the head, rest for a moment, and then push up with straight arms. Once in the pose, imagine lengthening the quadriceps forward toward the knees as the side chest lifts away from the pinky side of the hands. Engage the glutes enough to lift the hips more. If the tailbone curls down and back as the hips lift higher, use the lower abdomen to stabilize the core and keep the pelvis as neutral as possible. Stay and breathe, then come down carefully.

Next, lift one leg for Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana. This pose is similar to both the entry and exit of this week’s DETAIL + DEPTH pose, modified Viparita Chakrasana | Tick Tock, but is more demanding on both the hamstrings of the straight leg and quadriceps of the lower leg. If this is an issue, simply lift the top leg and keep the knee bent. Stay and breathe, then switch sides.

And finally for our peak pose! Viparita Chakrasana with a wall.

For video, see my Instagram page: (scroll down and look for photos of this outfit)

Come onto the back with the knees bent and toes at the wall. Lift into Urdhva Dhanurasana (which will feel easy after the previous backbends!). If the knees hit the wall as the body lifts into the pose, the body is compensating for tight shoulders by reaching the knees past the ankles to come into the pose. Oftentimes the body will later self-correct and use the the strength of the legs and feet to push the shoulders back toward the wrists. While it may be tight or even impossible to lift into Full Wheel like this, the wall as a prop provides feedback as to how we enter and exit the pose. As my teacher Alison West says, “Come into the pose through the pose.”

Once in Full Wheel, step one foot as high up the wall as possible. Push off the foot to lift the second leg and flip over the hands. Land as lightly as possible one foot at a time. If necessary, take a couple breaths in Ardha Uttanasana, being mindful to keep the spine long in preparation for the upcoming backbend. Kick one foot up and find the wall. Lower the second foot to the ground, then the top foot. Repeat by switching legs, then rest.