Pose Therapy with Zainab Zakari
As a Vinyasa Flow teacher, I get my fair share of questions about wrists and yoga wrist pain. And for vigorous styles of yoga, such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga practices, the wrists certainly get a lot of use in yoga push-ups and planks, not to mention arm balances & some inversions. Sometimes the more wrist-dependent yoga poses offer opportunities to strengthen your wrists, and if you’re new to yoga, wrist pain might really be soreness that will change once you’ve developed a steady practice. However, if these poses are not done safely, they can also make you vulnerable to injuries & chronic pain, so it is worth paying attention to the wrists in your practice.
If you don’t already have existing wrist issues before you get on the mat, wrist pain can often flare up because of misalignment in certain wrist sensitive poses, a.k.a. weight-bearing poses. Some quick culprits tend to be Plank, Side Plank (Vasisthasana), yoga push-ups, arm balances, and even Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) or being on your hands and knees can aggravate wrists if done without proper awareness. Over time repeated misalignment will wear and tear on the joints, ligaments & tendons of the hands and wrist, so much that poses like Downward Facing Dog can be far from comfortable and Side Plank, where the weight is on one wrist, seems excruciating.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? In plank, your shoulders are far forward past hyper extended wrists as the hips sag, which shifts much of your body weight onto the shoulders and wrists. Or in Downward Facing Dog, your hands aren’t fully grounded on the mat, and the knuckles of the thumbs and index fingers lift away from the floor, unevenly distributing more of your weight to the outer edges of your hands. Or, lastly, in any weight-bearing pose, your hands are not aligned center, but torqued uncomfortably. All of these imbalanced positions can put excessive pressure on the small bones of the hand and surrounding ligaments and tendons which have limited flexibility to begin with. Ultimately, they increase your risk for painful strains, tears or breaks.
If these kinds of scenarios happen in your practice, you’re not alone in your wrist woes. And don’t think that you’re a lost cause. You can still do something about it and take charge of your wrist health. In my mat time, I’ve found that if I practice a few safety precautions, my wrists (and I) are much happier and stronger. Try these tips so you can stay wrist happy as long as possible.
1. Check your alignment & be honest
A general rule of thumb, though by no means true for every single situation, is that shoulders are aligned over the wrists in weight-bearing poses to minimize hyper extension. Aim to be firm and light in these poses. In other words, you are stable in the pose, but not so heavy that if feels like you’re smashing the heels of your hands into the floor.
2. Practice ahimsa & modify the pose
Ahimsa means non-harming, and if your wrists feel compromised, you may need to back off and modify the pose to suit you. For example, dropping to your knees in a modified plank or low push-up (Chaturanga), bending your knees in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) to shift your weight off the wrists, or even coming down to your elbows in Side Plank (Vasisthasana), Plank or Downward Facing Dog. And don’t be afraid to ask a knowledgeable teacher for tips on modified poses, too.
3. Take your time
A leading factor in yoga wrist pain can often be because you might move into poses too quickly without making sure your hands and arms are in the right alignment before you put weight on them. Though fast-moving flow classes may not spend as much time on alignment points, you can still practice safe alignment in your poses. It might mean you’re a beat or two off the class’ pace for a while, but with dedicated practice it will become second nature to come into healthy alignment smoothly. Plus you’ll find the pace that works for a healthy, happy practice for you.
4. Enjoy wrist therapy
After you’ve had some mat time, it can help to take some gentle counter stretches such as flexing and rotating the wrists or, among my personal favorites, evenly massaging the forearm from the elbow crease to the wrist and hand. The major muscles responsible for moving the wrist are all wrapped around the radius and ulna of the forearm, so often the tension can move up along the arm if pain is ignored.
5. Rest if/when there is pain
Along the lines of practicing ahimsa, again, if your wrists feel achy and strained, sometimes the best medicine is simply rest. You can try a different practice that doesn’t spend as much time on the wrists or emphasizes therapeutic healing techniques for them.
Questions about yoga poses? Feel free to post them below!