holding wrists

I broke my left wrist by falling into a tidepool in Hawaii within days of moving here many years ago. In one swift movement, thirty years of yoga practice was upended by Pele, the volcanic fire goddess, who baptized me in her womb of lava stone and sea water.

So many yoga practices involve wrist balance and strength that it can be a challenge for people like me who love yoga. To rest that part of the body long enough to let wounded bones, tendons, and ligaments heal can take great discipline. Almost every yoga class includes weight bearing on the wrists, knees, and feet. What we can learn from wrist breakage, tendon strain, and muscular or ligament pain is that the difficulties probably began long before a specific incident. Many hours curled over a computer keyboard, neck spasm, upper body weakness or stress can contribute to the challenge.

For students who find plank, downward dog, and even quadraped difficult, trying harder won’t help. Maybe trying harder is what got us into trouble in the first place.

If you’ve ever had a wrist – or for that matter an elbow, shoulder, foot, ankle, knee, or hip — “problem,” you know how much it can interfere with your yoga. Wrist injuries can be especially demoralizing if you enjoy a vinyasa-based style, in which placing weight on the hands for classic Sun Salutation takes you again and again into wrists weight-bearing on the. As you flow through Plank Pose, Chaturanga Dandasana (Lowered Plank), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose), you can aggravate already inflamed tissue.

So stop! If your wrists or any joint is causing you pain or further injury, that’s not yoga. Listen to your body for the difference between the aching or muscle soreness that might be called “good pain,” rather than the sharp, sudden pain in the joint which is “bad pain.” The benign ache occurs slowly as a result of stretching and is spread out in the tissue rather than localized.

Fortunately, a careful and gradual approach to increasing whole body flexibility and strength can help most students avoid problems—and rehabilitate the wrists, feet, and other areas of the body if necessary.

Practice Yoga While Protecting Your Wrists

If your wrists are sore from bearing weight on your hands, eliminate the poses that cause inflammation for a while so inflammation can heal. Even if it takes several weeks, that’s better repeated use on an injured wrist causing long-term problems. Wait for pain and soreness to subside; then begin slowly and gently stretching wrists, gradually reintroducing weight-bearing.

You can gradually increase wrist extension and flexion by putting your hands together in Namaste (Prayer Position) in front of your chest. Keep the heels of your hands together so your fingers point up. Press your hands gently down toward your waist, bonding the heels of your hands together to maintain a healthy wrist stretch, keeping the rims of the palms together. Keeping elbows in toward side ribs, hold this stretch for a minute or two as part of your daily routine, feeling high-quality energy flow from your heart to your hands and back again. Feel the full circle of energy between your heart and fingertips, palms and wrists. You’ll gradually be able to move the wrists into deeper extension.

Senior Yoga Teacher Julie Gudmastad writes in Yoga Journal’s BEARING UP UNDER PRESSURE (Published in Yoga Journal, May/June 2004) that suddenly launching back into Sun Salutations after a wrist injury would be counter-productive. “Start by spending a little time almost every day on your hands and knees. In this position, there is relatively little weight on the hands, so the wrists can become accustomed to weight bearing.”

On hands and knees, you can also vary the degree of extension of your wrists and how they connect with the shoulders. I found in my own wrist rehab a decade ago that the slow recovery of movement also helped to open my shoulders and chest.

“If placing the heels of your hands directly below your shoulders feels too intense, you can move your hands out a little in front of your shoulders, reducing the amount of extension,” writes Gudmastad. “As your wrists stretch out over time, begin to work them back beneath your shoulders. Also, as your wrists gain range of motion and endurance, you can put more weight onto them by modifying the position, lifting your knees up briefly into Plank Pose. Gradually build endurance in Plank, then you can begin carefully exploring Sun Salutations.

Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Dog pose provides an excellent way to build arm and shoulder strength. By giving wrists the right amount of pressure, it doesn’t force them into 90 degrees of extension, so the joints feel more open and are less likely to be painful than in full-extension poses thus helping prepare you for Plank, Handstand, and other arm balances.

As with any injury, there is a life lesson in weary wrists. Do you need to be more, or less, “off the cuff”? Do you feel like someone gave you a “slap on the wrist” you didn’t deserve? There may or may not be phrases about the wrist, cuff, or hand that apply to you, but you can “have a hand in” your evolution by practicing yoga that meets your body where it’s at!

Please join us for the steady flow of healing and creativity in Evolutionary Yoga Flow classes and the Yogassage Seminars on two Saturdays, November 21 and December 16. Details coming soon!

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