How to prevent injury and flow with ease
Beginners are often surprised at how much weight their wrists must bear in a yoga practice – especially throughout each downward facing dog and chaturanga. As a teacher, I spend a lot of time emphasizing the positioning of the feet in standing poses. Just like the feet, the hands affect our balance and allow us to extend our roots into the mat and earth. Our wrists are just as important as a strong core and grounded feet. Hand positioning is key in order to avoid injury and gain upper-body strength.
Let’s bring our awareness to the feet and think about they keep up grounded. They connect our bodies to the earth and support us while standing. Now let’s think about our wrists. Just as our feet are the foundation of all poses, our hands keep us balanced and allow us to group our roots into our mats. Before we begin a practice, let’s start by rolling the wrists in one direction, 10 times. Pause after 10 reps and roll them in the opposite direction, 10 times. Then move on to flexion and extension, which is shown in the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb3_oSAGoXs. Next, come into table top pose (hands + knees pose). Make sure the shoulder is over the top of the heel of the hand. Begin to engage all 10 fingertips as you spread each finger apart equally. Focus on pressing the pads + knuckles of the fingers down into the mat. Bring awareness into the base of the fingertips and feel where the mat connects from the bottom of the pinky finger to the bottom of the thumb, creating an arc along the top of the palm. The center of your palm should feel weightless and light, maybe slightly lifted. Keep the hands on the mat and begin to lift the forearms, elbows, and shoulders out of the wrist and come up onto the fingers. Your fingers should be flat on the mat as the palm completely lifts. Do 10 rounds of these lifts. Come back to table pose. Engage the hand and fingertips as we discussed above. Now tuck the toes and lift the hips towards the sky, coming into downward facing dog. Check in with the hands – did you lose the engagement as you came into down dog? Become aware of the wrists as you flow through your next practice.
For today, let’s focus on our wrists and alignment in downward facing dog! Downward dog teaches you to appreciate alignment, and thus prepares you for doing inversions, backbends, and forward bends.
- Opens and strengthens the shoulders and upper body
- Stretches the hamstrings and calves
- Tones the legs
- High or low blood pressure
- Acid reflux
- Hiatal hernia
- History of stroke
- Serious shoulder injury
While you’re in downward dog, align the wrists:
- Spread all 10 fingers wide, keeping the space even between each finger.
- Gently claw into the mat with each of the fingertips. Your fingertips will turn white!
- Engage the “arc” along the top of the palm/bottom of the fingertips.
- Feel the center and base of the palm become light; maybe lift slightly.
- Use the hands to press away from the body in order to keep the engagement.
Now keep this wrist alignment while you correct your form in downward dog:
- Your hands are placed shoulder distance apart
- Breathe into the space between your shoulder blades – think of how the spine rounds in Cat Pose. Don’t collapse into your shoulders/armpits.
- Engage your quads and press them back
- Lengthen the legs and reach the heels down towards the floor
- Think about bringing the belly button to the spine, creating a natural curve in your low back
- Lower the head so that your ears are between your biceps, without collapsing into the shoulders/armpits.
Bring your attention back to the wrists now. Did you lose the engagement or remain stable? Use downward dog as your peak pose throughout the week to strengthen those tiny wrist muscles!