10 Tips to Protect Your Wrists During Yoga Practice. ~ Stela Balaban

Via Stela Balaban
on Jul 25, 2013
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Cailen in side plank (vasisthasana)

I often hear yogis complain about wrist pain, particularly after a class heavy in planks, chatturangas and arm balances.

The alignment often taught in plank requires the (fore)arms to be at 90 degrees with the palms. Furthermore, in chatturanga, the shoulders move over the wrists, further compressing the angle of the (fore)arm to palm to less than a right angle.  This alignment may be too aggressive for some bodies who might feel strain or, even worse, pinching in the wrists when attempting it.

The bad news is that wrists lose flexibility over time, so you should be kind with yourself whenever returning to your mat. The good news is that you can regain some of that flexibility if you practice with awareness toward yourself and follow these easy tips that will protect the wrists, while still promoting opening in areas where there is space available.

1) Practice your planks, chatturangas and arm balances on a hard surface. Soft yoga mats or fluffy carpets are a no-no, because they let the heels of your wrists sink, decreasing the angle between your forearm and the palm.

2) Plant the entire palm on the mat, then extend the fingers and plant them on the mat. Bent fingers aggravate the wrist! Shift the weight evenly into all of the joints of the palm, moving the concentrated weight away from the heel of your palm.

3) Do rounds of “wrist lifts.” From table top, lift the heel of the palm then lower it. Repeat 15-20 times or until you feel the forearm muscles get tired. Keeping the muscle memory of the wrist lifts still fresh in your mind, try plank or downward facing dog and feel the lightness in your wrists.

4) Elevate the heel of your wrists by placing your palms on a folded hand towel, purposely increasing the angle between your forearms and the palm. The fingers and the finger mounds stay off the towel, sloping downward.

5) Shift the palms forward of the shoulders in plank to release the wrists. Note that this is not an option for crow or other arm balances because you don’t have your feet on the ground for balance.

6) Modification: bend your elbows during plank to help move the strain away from the wrist area. Elbows must bend backward (toward the toes) and not laterally.

7) Don’t be scared to bend your knees and lower them to the floor! This is another way to move the weight out of the wrists and into the legs.

8) Try planting your fists instead of palms on your mat. This modification takes the weight completely out of the wrists and helps strengthen it.

9) Use blocks under your palms. The elevation under your palms moves some of your weight into the legs, alleviating the stress on the wrists. You may either keep the palms flat on the block or fold the fingers down, bringing them parallel to the earth.

10) Assess, reassess, reassess. Every time you set up for plank, shift your weight forward and backward until you find the alignment that is right for your wrists.

Your ideal alignment should be free of pain and it should follow a level of challenge that is appropriate for you.

Happy planking!


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Assistant Ed: Renee Picard/Ed: Bryonie Wise



About Stela Balaban

During the day, Stela Balaban works in the corporate world. During the evening, she teaches yoga at Yoga Strong in North Canton, OH. She received her 200-hour certification from the White Lotus in California in 2011. When she’s not doing yoga, she’s experimenting with recipes, going for bike rides and often popping into handstands in odd places.


12 Responses to “10 Tips to Protect Your Wrists During Yoga Practice. ~ Stela Balaban”

  1. Mizboognish says:

    So much ego involved in chatturanga, planks and arm balances that we sacrifice our writs and shoulders. Great, great advice.
    To quote the Beastie Boys,
    "Let it flow, let yourself go
    Slow and low, that is the tempo
    Let it flow, let yourself go
    Slow and low, that is the tempo"

  2. Lauren says:

    These are very specific adjustments and I like the article, but some visuals would be helpful. Offering these kind of exercises without proper demonstration could also lead to accidental injury. Just a suggestion. 🙂 Good topic!

  3. @GloriaGypsy says:

    I would like to see suggestions for those of us who have tendinitis. I am a beginning yoga, and I have a lot of problems with my wrists and forearms with poses.

  4. tierney says:

    It also helps me to spin my hands out a bit, so my forefinger is at 12 instead of middle finger.

  5. Rogelio Nunez says:

    when you have chronic pains like this, its best to work with an experienced teacher in adjustments and using props….
    in addition to elevating the heel of the hand you can turn the hands outward so fingers face away from each other, use also a angled plank made of wood as support…
    tendinitis, meaning inflammation, due to RSI? rest might be the best medicine….maybe wrapping it with soft flexi material…for support.

  6. Alexander Litvak says:

    if you have have real pain in the wrists go see a a manual physical therapist, not even a regular physical therapist. When you wish to open up the range of motion in your wrists,come into a push up position, hips shoulder height, shoulders directly over wrists, and heels pulling back, neck in line with spine, and practice stirring the wrist around as one hand faces back, middle finger in line with the back toes. Stir around the back facing wrist clockwise for a minute, than counter clockwise. Doing so in the upper push up position will improve your core stability and heat up the wrists quicker. If you get tired, release the knees down, however, the preferred method is do stir around the backwards facing hand with knees off the floor thus putting in more effort and simultaneously heating up the body and conditioning the core. Next, stress the wrist forward and backward to whatever angle your wrist allows, trying to find maximum angle as you move your body fluidly forward and backward opening up the wrist joint. Switch, do the the other hand. Finally, test your wrists by placing both hands facing backwards towards the toes, spread your fingers wide and press the entire surface area of the hand into the floor evenly, fingers, under-side of the knuckles, upper palm and heel of the palm. Then, try an upward dog, maybe(!) transitioning smoothly into a down dog with wrists flipped backwards(also spread your collar bones). These exercises are difficult, however, if done consistently, will help stave off carpal tunnel syndrome, and open the wrist joints up to their maximum. There should be some straining felt in the wrist as you do these, there should be no intense pain that you can't breathe through. Thats your indicator, if you can't breathe and work towards equanimity than do these wrist openers on your knees. Each exercise performed for one minute in the least! it takes time for the wrist to heat up and loosen. Upper dog and down dog for 5 breaths if possible. Then, if feeling up to it, and feeling a sense of increased range of motion in the wrist, try a Peacock Pose. That is always fun 🙂 Namaste. Alex Litvak, Yoga Instructor. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Namaste-Warrior/12

  7. Kelda says:

    One of the best suggestions I heard was to concentrate on drawing the energy up your arms (from hand/wrist towards shoulder) rather than feeling like you're sinking your weight down into your hands. This visualisation of the energy helps me feel lighter in the wrists.

  8. Jessica says:

    The most effective modification I have found for my wrist pain was suggested to me by an instructor with 20 years of experience teaching yoga. It is a form of wrist elevation. When in plank or chaturanga, I have my fingers completely on the floor, but my wrists are off the floor. No props. This has strengthened my wrists and alleviated a lot of pain. My goal is to strengthen my wrists and fingers enough to slowly transition into doing these poses with fingers templed (only fingertips on the floor). Of course, this is much harder with arm balances (can it be done?).

  9. Maria says:

    Interesting article… Thanks for posting!

    Hmm.. I don’t get any wrist pain in any of these poses. However full wheel is a pain for me. I get massive pains in my wrists and struggle to get up the second time around and often I give up trying the third time at all. I have an idea that it’s because I lack shoulder flexibility and that causes me to misplace my weight a bit and strain my wrists, but I’m not sure. Any thoughts ?

  10. Ginny says:

    I haven’t done a vinyasa class in over a year because I developed carpal tunnel. Maybe I’ll experiment with these variations and see if I can get back to a pain free practice.

  11. Keeta says:

    Hi GG! I recently found a great class on myyogaonline.com that is aimed at those wanting to take weight of their wrists or just give them a rest … The sequence has become a sweet addition to my home prac… … Just search “wrist” and it will come up, by Kreg Weiss. 🙂

  12. Emma says:

    put two blocks against the wall at a 45 degree angle and place your hands on them rather than the floor, then go up into full wheel!