Original Article at Power Yoga with Michael Dynie. Written by Michael Dynie
There are many sources of wrist pain in Yoga. This is one of those nuisances that can come and go as you add more and more tricks to your repertoire. I believe most these aches are due to misalignment and collapsing into the lower palm.
I frequently experienced this up until the past year or two. My practice now consists of more arm balances than ever, and there has been no recurring pain. I also use a paper thin Manduka Lite Travel Mat — it has no padding for falls, but a firm surface is ideal when you spend lots of time on your hands.
Even Downward Dog is considered an “arm balance” posture. The importance of spreading the weight equally through the whole hand can be more quickly experienced when attempting an arm balance like Crow Pose or the Crane.
- Check to make sure the weight is not being carried by the pinky finger side of the hand.
- Share the weight between the upper and lower palm, though the upper palm generally can take slightly more weight.
- Focus on pressing through the index finger, the mound of the thumb and the inner palm (external rotation of hand).
- Also root down the knuckles where they connect to the palms.
Sun Salutations, Arm Balances and Sore Wrists
Let’s break down the various transitions (vinyasas) of the Sun Salutations – I hope this helps you isolate sources of pain in your yoga practice so you can stick with it!
Jump back vinyasas and wrist pain
In Sun Salutations, on the second vinyasa (movement) it is commonly taught to place the hands beside the feet as you exhale into a forward fold. If your hamstrings are very flexible or you are stepping back into high plank rather than jumping, this may help to align the shoulders right over the hands.
For students who are “jumping back” from the forward fold (fourth vinyasa), the full expression of the movement is locking the arms, then lifting the body half way into handstand with the legs straight, not bent. This requires a strong connection to the core strength of the body, but also requires the hamstrings be sufficiently warmed up, and quite flexible.
However, if the hamstrings are stiff, it will be impossible to bring the chest directly against the thighs in the forward fold, which lines the shoulders up, almost directly over the wrists. Tip the pelvis forward a little bit, so that the pelvis attempts to line up above the shoulders – here the shoulder can easily move too far beyond the wrist, creating an acute (less than 90 degree angle) between the wrists and hands.
A slightly acute angle is fine in arm balances — checkout the crane photo above and you’ll see the angle is more like 75 degrees — but if the angle is too small, it might hurt the wrist.
Be a champ and play safe by placing the hands a few inches in front of the feet for jumpbacks, still about shoulder width apart. Then take flight. This also may allow people whose hamstrings do not have the optimal level of flexibility to still attempt the jump back movement.
High Plank Tips
Press through the whole hand, but be sure not to take much weight in the pinky finger – the bones on that side of the wrist are sensitive. Root strongly through the index finger and mound of the thumb. This requires a conscious effort. Spread the fingers wide. Press through all the knuckles where they connect to the palm, but emphasize the weight around the index finger.
Keep the elbows lined up over the wrists when transitioning from high plank to Chataranga. Actively draw the shoulder blades away from the ears and eachother, as you would in Mountain Pose (Samsthitihi)
As you lower from high plank to Chataranga and the elbows bend, the elbows should be lined up right over the wrists. If they are too far forward, this can strain the wrist. To keep the alignment as you lower down, strongly draw the shoulder blades away from the ears. The hips and chest come way forward while lowering, as the shoulder blades and the elbows are drawn back toward the hips.
If your wrists are sore an even better option is leaving out the chataranga for a while – simply stay in high plank then roll into upward dog if your back is flexible (that’s a recommendation from Richard Freeman).
Transitioning Safely to Upward dog
Lower all the way to the floor in chataranga. Knees, heart, and tops of the feet briefly rest on the floor. I find that 90% of the time, if students come all the way to the floor in Chataranga, the quality of the Updog improves so much that wrist pain is eliminated — and there is a much safer and deeper opening through the hip flexors, chest and shoulders. For this reason, I always emphasize coming all the way to the floor in Chataranga.
Pull your body forward through the arms while pressing the tops of the feet down, shoulders back. This puts the breaks on the hips, and delivers an elongation through the front of the spine.
It may also be useful to keep the backbend in upward dog modest, and focus keeping the shoulders over or behind the wrist in the transition from chataranga to upward dog.
Downward Dog – Another trick may be walking the feet in a little bit closer in downward dog. This may allow the heels to come closer to the floor so more weight is distributed through the legs, and less is taken by the arms and hands. At least do this during the healing process to avoid aggravating the injury.
The finger position can also be tweaked here. Keep that L position in the hands, with the index finger and mound of thumb pressing firmly into the floor.
Another thing to try is turning the index finger in toward the centre, just a little bit, say 5 degrees or so.
There is no one-size fits all answers to alignment here. But do experiment with these approaches.
Get a quality yoga mat – low end mats hurt wrists
If your mat cost less than 40 bucks, that harmless looking piece of rubber might be hurting you. Softer mats may be fun to roll around on, but if you’re jumping around or hanging out in downward dog, the hands sink right through them. I recommend a firmer surface like the Manduka Pro Lite mat (about $70). In my opinion, these types of mats should be a prerequisite for practising Ashtanga and Power yoga!
Yoga instructors with sore wrists
Lay off the adjustments a little if you’re someone who adjusts people a lot. The respectful action of pressing on people with our palms instead of giving them the creepy fingers can contribute to wrist pain. Another option is getting creative with the other body parts, and use your feet, chest, and legs to adjust when you can.
Also, do not demo any poses when you are teaching! That might sound drastic, so start by demoing half as much, then gradually cut it back. I read and have been told my friends who frequent Mysore, India that Sharath (the Yoga Guru in Mysore who is in charge of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute) gives few adjustments besides backbends, helping people bind in Marichyasana postures, and assisting with standing balancing poses.
Adjusting is much harder work than we probably realize, because it is our wrists that tend to take the biggest beating.