By Faye Martins
According to the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, the U.S. Department of Labor recognizes hand injuries as one of the most common, but preventable, injuries in people of working age. Those and those familiar with teaching Yoga will surely agree. Many new students have pre-existing hand or wrist pain long before they ever started practicing Yoga. The hands and wrists, made up of relatively small joints with many muscles, tendons and nerves, are a delicate area.
They control fine motor skills, and at the same time, are strong enough to bear a person’s entire body weight. Too many practices are ended early because of discomfort in the hands and wrists. Thankfully, there are exercises to help with strained wrists and sore hands. There are also props to alleviate straining altogether and alternative positions to try that are less likely to cause pain.
First, consider props that can help distribute the weight more evenly along the arm and spare the wrist. A new prop that is getting excellent reviews is the Three Minute Egg, a rounded, egg-shaped foam block that takes the place of traditional square blocks or wedges.
By using the egg blocks in each hand during asanas with weight on the hands and wrists, the pressure is distributed up the arm and the pose becomes much more comfortable. In poses like Plank, or Chaturanga, grasping hand weights can relieve wrist pain. Even rolled up mats beneath the heel of the hand can provide some relief.
Assuming some wrist pain is already present, the following are some simple stretches that can help.
Therapeutic Yoga for Wrists and Hands
Handcuffs: Circle each wrist with the opposite thumb and forefinger and squeeze firmly for 3-5 seconds.
Wrist rotations: Hold the hands palm out flat and circle the wrists clockwise and counter clockwise.
Prayer pose, with both hands together in namaste position. Exert gentle pressure pushing the hands together, then lean them back towards the wrists: first the left hand pushing the right back to a 45 degree angle, then right pushing left back.
Reverse Prayer: Behind your back, put your hands together in Namaste mudra, with your fingers pointing down instead of up. Hold for 20 seconds, or so, as long as it is comfortable.
Backward wrists: On all fours, rotate your hands until fingers are pointing towards you, with forearms facing the front and gently lean back. Go slowly and pay attention to any pain in the muscles, as this stretch can be quite intense.
Wrist Safety and Pain Prevention in Yoga Class
To prevent hand and wrist pain altogether during practice, modify hand positions during Yoga sessions. In Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, keeping the hands flat and pushing back is responsible for a great deal of soreness. Bending the fingers of the hands at the top joint, so the middle knuckles stick up rather than lie flat, is an excellent modification that strengthens the forearms and keeps pressure off wrists. In Upward Facing Dog, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, keeping the hands closed in fists protects the wrists. Many other Yoga poses can be modified by using the forearms to bear the weight – rather than using the hands.
Additionally, chairs, low stools, blankets, and bolsters can be used to modify postures, which put too much pressure on the wrists. It may be necessary to take a rest from arm balances entirely if pain is recurrent. Remember that Yoga works with your body, not against it and honor its need for recovery.
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