Sitting at your office desk for most of the day can be a pain in the neck, wrists or practically any part of your body. The 5:30 yoga class should be a perfect way to work out your body’s kinks, but yoga can cause strain in your body, too. Anatomy and yoga teacher Leslie Kaminoff says a dozen sun salutations with more than half the time spent in wrist-loading postures including plank, chaturanga, upward-facing dog and downward-facing dog can put more strain on your already-inflamed upper extremities. If yoga leaves you with painful wrist joints and feeling more stressed than when you unrolled your mat at the beginning of class, it doesn’t mean that yoga isn’t for you. Knowing how to structure your yoga practice to support your wrists can help you feel motivated to unroll your mat and find the pain and stress relief that you crave from your yoga class.
Wrist Guards and Therapy
If you experience chronic wrist pain or pain associated with a specific syndrome, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or osteoporosis, then working with a yoga therapist or physical therapist to explore options for your individual yoga practice is the most prudent approach to alleviating pain. A therapist may suggest a wrist support that you wear to practice yoga. Several companies make yoga-specific wrist guards that provide support for painful wrist-loading yoga postures. However, wrist guards can also restrict proper alignment of the hands and wrists, which can impact shoulder alignment and, on a more subtle level, alignment throughout the body. If you choose to use a wrist guard, work with an experienced teacher or therapist to explore proper alignment with the guard because the guard alone won’t solve your problems.
Alignment for Your Hands
Learning how to optimally place your hands, wrists and shoulders can help to alleviate and prevent pain. Uneven distribution of body weight through the hands can compress the bones of the wrist joint, inflame the tendons, pressure on the nerves and create pain in the wrists. My Yoga Online recommends considering the floor type as a beginning point for wrist alignment since a squishy practice surface can exaggerate places in your hands where you carry more weight than others. Anytime your hands are on the ground, in postures like downward-facing dog, crow pose or plank, spread your fingers evenly apart and distribute weight to the tips of each finger by pressing into the knuckle joints. Because shoulder tightness can cause the inner edge of the hand to lift, be especially aware of extending through the thumbs and forefingers. Many teachers instruct students to align the wrist creases parallel with the short edge of the mat and the middle of the wrist in line with the middle of the shoulder. If your shoulders have less range of motion, however, experiment with placing your hands slightly wider and turning the hands slightly out so that you can extend through the wrist joint and distribute weight throughout the hands and fingers.
Iyengar yoga is a system developed by B.K.S. Iyengar that incorporates the use of props to help a diversity of students practice and benefit from the postures of yoga. A foam wedge is a yoga prop designed to reduce the angle of the wrist in poses like downward-facing dog and hand-balancing poses. Many yoga studios have a few wedges for students to use or buy. Regular use of a prop can strengthen the muscles that support the wrist joints and decrease pain over time. You may even find that the prop serves as a transition to the floor and you build the strength in the forearms and openness in the shoulders to optimally align the hands on the floor.
Modified and Hands-free Practice
Sometimes wrist support means giving the joints time to recover. Not bearing weight on your hands may be difficult in the typical vinyasa yoga class, so learning to modify postures or practicing on your own can be beneficial to nurse your wrists back to health. Try modifying postures like downward-facing dog and plank pose on your forearms instead of on your hands. Align the wrists just as you would for the traditional form of the pose and work to distribute weight through the forearms and hands. Yoga teacher Baxter Bell suggests practicing downward-facing dog at the wall with the arms and torso parallel to the floor to decrease the pressure of full body weight on the wrist joints. Kaminoff recommends a hands-free yoga practice to challenge and stretch the legs and give you the opportunity to breathe and relax the upper extremities. Incorporate standing yoga postures into your practice. A hands-free practice can build heat in the body so that you can open the shoulders, chest and arms without adding stress to the wrist joints.
Eileen Pfefferle covers art, literature, language, culture, nutrition and yoga. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish from the University of Wyoming. Pfefferle is a registered yoga instructor with a specialization in children's yoga.