Yoga TLC for Your Wrists: How to Stretch, Strengthen and Protect Your Wrists
Do your wrists hurt during yoga? Or maybe you notice after a yoga class that your wrists feel strained or sore. Wrist pain is a common issue among yoga practitioners.
There’s probably very little that you do in your daily life that requires you to stand on your hands. When you go to a yoga class, all of a sudden you ask your hands and wrists to bear a lot of your weight in many asanas (poses). Vinyasa-style classes can be especially strenuous for the wrists as you move through multiple Sun Salutations, Plank Poses, Chaturanga Dandasanas, and Downward-Facing Dogs (Adho Mukha Svanasana)—all of which bear weight on the hands.
The wrist is a delicate joint, made up of many tiny bones, tendons, and ligaments. Unless you’ve taken the time to gradually build strength, endurance, and flexibility in your wrists, it’s not surprising that they end up sore or tender after bearing so much of your weight during an asana class.
Ways to Address Wrist Strain in Yoga
Achy wrists aren’t something you just have to endure if you want to practice yoga. In fact, your asana practice can actually enable you to develop mobility and stability in your wrists—as long as you pay attention to a few key factors:
· Stretching and strengthening
Yoga can keep your wrists healthy and pain-free if you practice proper alignment principles; stretch and strengthen your wrists, hands, and forearms; and use intelligent modifications when necessary.
Protect Your Wrists with Proper Alignment
Identify the four corners of your palms—the mounds of the thumb, pinky finger, and index finger, and the outer heel of the hand. Whenever your hands are on the floor, notice if any of the four corners bears more weight than the others. As much as possible, spread your weight evenly among the four corners. A common misalignment that leads to wrist pain happens when your weight collapses into the heels of your hands. To counteract this tendency, root down through the knuckles where your fingers attach to your palms.
At the same time that the four corners of your hands are pressing down evenly, lift the center of your palm. Imagine your palm is like a suction cup—the edges of the cup stay down while the center of the cup rises.
Spread your fingers and thumbs. Press down evenly with all ten finger pads, simultaneously lengthening the fingers forward.
When bearing your weight on two hands (such as in Downward-Facing Dog, Tabletop Pose, and Plank Pose), place your wrist creases in a straight line side to side, so they’re parallel to the top edge of the mat. Externally rotate your upper arms so your inner elbows turn to face forward.
As a general rule, the wrists should be directly under or slightly ahead of the shoulders in weight-bearing poses such as Tabletop Pose, Plank Pose, and Handstand. Placing the wrists behind the shoulders causes the wrists to extend excessively, which strains the joint.
Stretching and Strengthening Your Wrists for Yoga
Bring your palms together in front of your chest in Anjali Mudra (prayer position). Press the heels of your hands and all ten finger pads together while you draw your hands down towards your waist. Hold for 10-15 breaths.
As a counter stretch to Anjali Mudra, press the backs of your hands together in front of your chest with the fingers pointing downward. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Stretch both arms out in front of your chest. Rotate your hands in one direction, then the other.
Come into Tabletop Pose on your hands and knees, facing downward. Instead of spreading your palms onto the floor, lift your palms and balance your weight on just the lengths of your fingers. Hold here, or flow through a few rounds of Cat-Cow Pose (Marjarasana). Eventually, work up to moving back and forth between Downward-Facing Dog Pose and Plank Pose with this hand position. Balancing on just the fingers simultaneously stretches the hands and strengthens the muscles of the forearms and core. This strength will enable you to lift your weight out of your wrists when bearing weight on the palms.
Modifying Yoga Poses for Your Wrists
Work up to weight-bearing poses on your hands slowly. Start with poses that don’t require 90 degrees of wrist extension, such as Tabletop Pose with the wrists placed in front of the shoulders. Gradually, as your wrists become more flexible, walk them farther and farther back until they’re directly underneath your shoulders. Downward-Facing Dog Pose is another pose that doesn’t require 90-degree wrist extension. It builds the strength in your arms and shoulders that’s required for poses that do, such as Plank Pose and Handstand.
Place a rolled-up mat or blanket, or a yoga wedge under the heels of your hands so the wrists are elevated and don’t have to extend quite as sharply.
If you’re dealing with acute wrist pain, it’s best to completely avoid extending your wrists. Instead of standing on your palms in poses such as Tabletop Pose and Plank Pose, stand on your fists or forearms.
To reduce the amount of weight your wrists must bear in Plank Pose, put your knees on the ground. As your wrists become stronger and more flexible, take the knees away from the floor for a few seconds. Gradually increase the amount of time that you spend on your hands in Plank Pose with your knees lifted away from the floor.
Bend your knees in Downward-Facing Dog Pose to shift some of the weight out of your wrists and back towards your hips and legs. Stretch forward through your fingers, hands, and arms, while simultaneously pressing your chest towards your thighs and lifting your hips toward the sky.
Want more insights into Yoga for Pain Relief? Read our Yoga for Healthy Aging Article: Three Different Ways Yoga Can Help with Pain.
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Christine Malossi, RYT 200 is based in New York City, where she offers a mindful, alignment-focused Vinyasa practice that cultivates balance, awareness, and equanimity. In addition to teaching private clients and group classes at studios throughout Manhattan, she also teaches at the Spencer Cox Center for Health at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Institute for Advanced Medicine where she designs a practice specifically tailored to patients diagnosed with HIV and other chronic illnesses. Christine is honored to be teaching yoga and to have the opportunity to pass on to others the joy and freedom that she has found in her own practice. Find her at www.christinemalossi.com