We all love yoga, don’t we? We love yoga so much, we don’t want to give up our daily practice. We love yoga so much, we sometimes push through poses when we aren’t ready for them. Then one day we get a gentle warning sign in the form of pain or discomfort. The Udaya yoga students know what to do! They post in our facebook group and look for help. As the resident yoga therapist and “body mechanic” at Udaya.com, I’m always eager to offer my expertise.
One of the most common complaints among our Udaya students is the issue of wrist pain. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. We spend all day in wrist flexion (typing, texting, driving, cooking, etc) and then we get on our mat and put our wrist in extension and then load our entire body weight on this wrist position. It’s a recipe for tissue strain.
How to determine if your wrists are plank ready:
Take the wrist flexibility test! Touch your elbows and wrists together and open your palms. How far back do your wrists extend?
If you look like the photo below (arms and hands resemble the letter T), you are ready for planks and other poses that bear weight on your hands. While this doesn’t guarantee pain free wrists, you have the appropriate range of motion for these poses.
If you look like this photo below (arms and hands resemble the letter Y), you’ve got some stretching to do! Your limited range of motion in the wrists will cause your elbows, shoulders and spine to step in and compensate.
How to improve your wrist flexibility:
Everyone can do the following stretches, even if you look like the first photo. They are an excellent counter to the hours you spend in wrist and finger flexion. I suggest you do them several times a day, particularly if you work on a computer. The finger stretches (photo below) will help reduce the stiffness in your hands and forearms. Please be gentle, hold each finger for several seconds, and do them 4-5 times a day. Work your way up to 30 seconds on each finger and don’t forget to be gentle. Duration is better than force when we are stretching soft tissue. Do one finger at a time, do both hands (notice the difference, wow!!!), and be gentle. Did I mention be gentle?
Another excellent way to prepare your wrists for planks, handstands, arm balances, etc. is to get down on the floor…often! Several times a day, get down on all fours (photo below). Keep your knees down to keep the load light. Make sure your arms are straight and start with your shoulders a few inches behind your wrists. Then slowly move the shoulders over the wrists (without scrunching the shoulders up to the ears – keep the relaxed and down). Once you feel a stretch, stay there up to one minute and wait. Be gentle! Again, time is your friend. Force is not. Not only will you benefit from the wrist stretch, you will also benefit from getting on and off the floor. We just don’t do this enough in our culture.
But I want to do all those fancy yoga poses NOW!
I get it. You don’t want to stop your yoga practice. But you don’t want the pain either. You surely don’t want to wait until your stretches improve your range of motion – I mean that could take weeks!
No worries. That’s why we have yoga props. If you prop up your hands you can reduce the degree of wrist flexion needed for these poses. The best part is that you will still do all the poses without compensating! This means that while you are improving your wrist flexibility, your elbows, shoulders and back can be busy doing what they are supposed to be doing instead of spending their time helping out your wrists.
My favorite yoga prop for this scenario is a yoga wedge. Just put in under mat (photo below) and place your hands on it. As your flexibility increases, you will just move down the wedge until you no longer need it.
If you don’t want to buy a prop, you can just roll up the front of your yoga mat. This is less convenient since it will unroll when you take your hands off it. But it costs zero dollars. The choice is yours.
That’s it. Keep me posted and let me know what questions you have (about wrist or anything else yoga related). You can reach me on my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JulesMitchellYogaBiomechanics
Oh, and did I mention that you should be gentle when stretching?