Updated: Mar 13, 2020
The physical practice of Yoga is one of the eight limbs, named Asana. In Yoga Asana we utilize movement in the muscles and major and minor joint systems of the body to help prepare the mind for meditation. During this process, we may experience dis-ease or pain in the joints. Most commonly in Yoga, this type of dis-ease manifests in the shoulders, wrists, hips and knees. The wrists are especially vulnerable to those who are new to Yoga. This is because it takes some time for the major muscle groups to develop in order to support the body in poses like Downward Facing Dog. In a pose like Downward Dog, the wrists might want to absorb all of the weight of the upper body, to compensate for tightness in the hamstrings and lower body. Whether you’re new to Yoga, or have had previous injuries, you may want to consider modifying your practice to help alleviate some pressure from the hands and wrists. Even as a teacher, after a long week of practice, I will sometimes notice discomfort in my wrists and thumb joints.
Yoga philosophy teaches us that there is no perfect way to practice. We are not just allowed, but encouraged to participate as our authentic selves, and modify if necessary. Below are a few of such ways to avoid wrist pain in your Yoga practice.
Spread Your Fingers OR Make A Fist
When teaching a Yoga class, we want to cue our students from head to toe. You may notice that your Yoga teacher starts cueing from the top of your body, to the bottom. Pay special attention here, this is intentional. Let’s use Downward Dog as an example again. Our primary movement in this pose is upward force through the hands and into the shoulders. We actively push the Earth away, and the chest towards the thighs. Our secondary movement is pressing the heels in the direction of the mat. When our primary movement in a pose originates in a specific joint, we will most often notice dis-ease in that area first. In Downward Dog, we can support and protect the major joint system (the shoulders) and the minor joint system (the wrists) by creating a strong base. The base of this pose is the hands. Wrist discomfort can come from uneven pressure on the hands. We want to evenly distribute the weight of the body by spreading the fingers wide. Think of this as “starfising” the hands. This engagement of the fingers paired with pressing the palm of the hands into the mat creates a solid foundation for the rest of the pose. If this doesn’t work for your body, or you still feel discomfort, you might try making a fist with the hands (like you’re punching the mat). We can use these modifications with and without blocks in poses like Table, Plank & Spinal Balance.
Drop to Your Forearms
When in doubt, you can always drop to your forearms and take all pressure off of the wrists. Actually, many of the most common Yoga poses can easily be modified with the forearms down. For example-
Downward Facing Dog- forearms drop to Dolphin
Upward Facing Dog/ Cobra- forearms on the mat for Sphinx
Plank- to Forearm Plank
Side Plank- to Forearm Side Plank
Table- drop to the forearms for Slanted Table
Like in the method above, dropping to the forearms increases the surface area of the body in contact with the mat, which helps in distributing the weight of the body.
Find Your Bandhas
If you notice yourself putting an uncomfortable amount of pressure on the wrists in your Yoga practice, you may want to check in with your Bandhas. Bandhas are the energetic muscle locks of the body, which are used to support the spine and major joint systems. In our Asana practice, there are four important Bandhas. First we have Pada Bandha- the engagement of the feet into the mat. Second is Mula Bandha- the lift of the pelvic floor. Third is Uddyana Bandha- the pulling of the belly button up and in towards the spine. Lastly is Jalahara Bandha- the tucking of the chin halfway to the chest. Using Downward Dog as an example, notice if you have a tendency to put more weight into one hand and shoulder than the other. If so, engage your Bandhas and pull your energy towards the midline of the body. This muscle engagement lifts and supports the weight of the body, decreasing the impact on the minor joint systems like the wrists and ankles.
It’s a common misconception that blocks and supports are only used by those who are not in the full expression of the pose. This could not be more untrue. Blocks are incredible tools that have been used by Yogis to support and enhance their practice for centuries. In poses like Runners Lunge, Lizard, Low Lunge & Half Splits, a block can be used on either side of the front foot to help absorb some of the weight of the upper body. This allows us to get deeper into these stretches without compromising the integrity of the elbows and shoulders. The next time you are in Runners Lunge, try bringing a block to either side of the foot. Press the hands (flat, fingers together OR fists) into the blocks and shift some more of your weight forward into your front foot. Notice how this allows you to keep the heart open and energetic and increases the stretch in the legs.
The main message of this post is to remind us to practice authenticity with our Yoga and always listen to the body. There is nothing wrong with modifying, since there is no such thing as perfection in a Yoga practice. Staying tuned into the needs of your body, listening and modifying as needed will ensure you practice safely and sustainably.
Questions? Comments? Reach out!