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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Avoiding Wrist Pain in Yoga - With Plank and Downward Facing Dog Variations

I have a few more suggestions today for taking unnecessary pain and pressure off the wrists in common yoga poses. Two poses I used to struggle with regularly are Plank // Chaturanga, and Downward Facing Dog // Adho Mukha Svanasana.

Pictured below are two uncomfortable versions of Plank. The body is swayed in one direction or another. This disrupts the flow of energy from the crown of the head to the heels, and that can actually affect how good or bad the pose feels. We don't want to block or lose our energy; we want to use it to be strong and balanced in a pose!

Shifting the body too far over the hands is another common misalignment in Plank. When we draw the head forward, more weight is put on the hands than the feet and that pressure is uncomfortable on the wrists. This is a transitional pose for moving from Plank to Low Plank // Chaturanga Dandasana, and is not meant to be held for extended periods of time.

To give the wrists a break, take a look at the photo below. It's not perfect, but it's a little more comfortable than those above. The weight is more evenly distributed between hands and toes, and there's a long line from the top of the head to the heels. I'm trying to get my body to look like an actual PLANK. When my weight isn't pressing too far forward over the hands, I'm able to work on lifting up away from the mat. All ten fingers are engaged and pressing into the mat, as if I could push off the mat and float into the air. Having that mindset can help this pose feel less heavy on the wrists. My heels are also actively pressing behind me, lengthening the legs and engaging the large muscles in the glutes and legs. I didn't include a photo, but Plank can be done with the knees on the mat instead of the toes, or even on the forearms and toes. These are great alternatives to allow the upper body strength to build up before doing Plank on hands and toes.

In Downward Facing Dog, common misalignment is found in the shoulders, hips and knees. If the shoulders aren't pressing back to allow a long line from the hands to the hips, we're putting extra weight on the wrists. If we don't keep the shoulder blades spread apart and the elbows rotated toward the ears, we're putting extra weight on the wrists.

If the tailbone isn't extending up toward the sky, we're putting extra weight on the wrists. If we're so focused on straight legs with heels touching the floor, we may be keeping the hips too far forward, putting extra weight on the wrists. Pictured below, you can see how far forward my upper body is, and the amount of pressure my wrists experience as a result.

When I'm in a more comfortable version of Downward Dog, I can actually lift the heels of my hands off the mat. Before I learned how to properly shift my weight, this pose hurt my wrists SO MUCH. It's called a resting posture, and is meant to be a place for catching the breath and regrouping in a sequence. But it NEVER felt like that to me. Then I learned more about it and how to make it work for my body!

I generally have tight calves, and that prevents me from connecting my heels to the mat in Downward Dog. I thought I had to make my heels touch, though, and I struggled. When I realized I could bend my knees as much as I wanted, it was a huge breakthrough for me. Bending my knees helped me lift my hips higher, which helped me lengthen my spine and drop my head and take weight off my wrists. Now I no longer dread Downward Dog.

These aren't the only ways to implement variations in poses, so if these tips don't help you find something that works for you, feel free to let me know. I'd love to explore other options and help you enjoy yoga!

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