September 6, 2012

Yin Yoga for the Upper Body: The Wrists. ~ Bernie Clark

Photo: Zac Zen

Traditionally, Yin Yoga works the area from the navel to the knees, but its principles can be applied to all areas of the body.

Body workers, typists and musicians are just some of the people who suffer from repetitive stress syndrome (RSS) and often this occurs in their wrists.

There’s a band of fascia surrounding the wrists called the retinaculum and there are many layers of ligaments, such as the carpal ligament, that pass over the tendons of the flexors of the fingers. Repetitive, yang-like movements of the hand can damage these yin-like tissues creating problems with names like “carpal tunnel syndrome.”1 Yin-like exercises will help thicken and strengthen these tissues, if done properly.

If you suffer from any form of RSS, you will need to see your health care professional before beginning treatment.

Yin Yoga exercise is not designed as a yoga therapy, but rather as an aid to make your healthy tissues healthier. If you’re currently experiencing pain, your health care provider may recommend that you rest the area until you are pain free, and then begin movement exercises. It’s at this time that these Yin Yoga positions will prove helpful. As always, don’t go to where it is painful, and if in any doubt, check with a professional.

Once again we can work the hands and wrists while we’re luxuriating in other Yin Yoga poses.

Let’s assume the Shoelace pose again and investigate a few options for working with the wrists in a yin-manner. While in Shoelace:

Raise your hands out in front of you with the palms turned upwards.

Lower the tips of your fingers to the floor and then lean over your hands, trying to bring the heel of your palms to the ground.

Move to the place where you feel a sensation in the inside of the forearm.

If these sensations are too much, move your hands closer towards you.

If, in time, the sensations ebb away, you can move deeper by moving the hands further away from you and folding your chest towards your thighs.

These sensations can be quite intense: don’t stay where you feel any burning.

One minute here may be enough for now.

When you’re done, sit back up and shake out the wrists.

Now you’re ready for the other side:

Once again bring your hands out in front of you, but have the palms facing down.

Lower your finger tips to the floor and lean forward enough that you are bringing the back of your hands to the ground.2

If this is too much, move your hands closer towards you: as your edge moves, try sliding the hands further away.

One minute may be enough here too.

When done, sit back up and shake out the wrists.

This version of the wrist stretch is a nice counterpose for yang-yogis who love flowing vinyasas that involve lots of Up Dogs and Down Dogs. You can do these two versions of wrist stretches while in the Dragons, the Swan, in Straddle or any seated posture.

Another variation for the back of the hands is the Seagull.

To do the Seagull, sit up tall (or come to standing if you like) and open your arms wide to the side, with the palms facing the back of the room.

Now bring the back of the hands to your arm pits, keeping the fingers facing the back of the room.

Snuggle your hands backwards a bit more.

Add the juice by lowering your wings (your elbows).3

You may find this yin position for the wrists a nice way to end a series of sun salutations: it is similar to standing on your hands in Padahastasana.

Hold for a minute or so, then release your hands and shake out the wrists.

These Yin Yoga positions by no means exhaust all the ways we can stress our upper body tissues.

Feel free to develop other positions: remember the principles are simple—stress the tissues, play your edges, become still, hold for time and, when finished, relax and rest the area you just worked. Also remember, we’re deliberately stressing these tissues: you need to feel it. Don’t be too deep—remember Goldilocks—but do be deep enough that you are getting something.


  1. Carpal tunnel syndrome arises where there’s pressure on the median nerve that runs under the fascia and ligaments of the wrist to the hand. There’s debate whether repetitive movement actually causes carpal tunnel syndrome, and certainly there are many potential causes of this condition—the carpal tunnel may be smaller in some people, trauma or injury could have happened there, fluid retention, rheumatoid arthritis … the list goes on. However, it is well known that repetitive stress can create tendonitis, bursitis and inflammation of the wrist joint.
  2. You may start to feel like some sort of prehistoric, gorilla yogi with your knuckles dragging on the ground. That just means you’re doing it properly.
  3. All of us elderly yogis may know this as the “Red Skeleton” position and will feel like telling jokes about two seagulls named Gertrude and Heathcliff.


Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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