Poses such as Downward-Facing Dog, Plank and Crow require you to bear much of your weight on your wrists. But when your wrists are sore, whether from overuse, an injury or arthritis, you may feel defeated and discouraged when it's time to hit your yoga mat.
Stoic suffering isn't the yogic way to overcome wrist pain. Building wrist flexibility and strength goes a long way in helping you address the problem of weak wrists. Seek out specific props that change the angle of your wrists to offer additional support, too.
Why Your Wrists Are a Pain
Your wrists are small joints, mostly designed to control small movements in your hands. The connective tissue there, including tendons and ligaments, easily gets irritated when used repetitively — such as happens with constant time at a keyboard — so you enter class with tired and achy wrists.
Then, when you hit up a vinyasa class which puts large demands on the joint in an extreme range of motion, it adds to the irritation. Bending your wrist backward repeatedly in flows of Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog, as well as in arm balances, puts the joint in an extreme range of motion to which it's just not accustomed.
Build Wrist Flexibility and Strength
Not everyone has naturally flexible wrists. Check how your wrists feel when you bend them backwards by holding a Plank pose for 30 to 60 seconds, for example. If they start to ache, build flexibility in them by regularly holding Anjali Mudra — hands pressed together (palms touching completely all the way to the bottom of your hand) at your chest. Wrist circles and simply bending them forward and backward often during the day also helps loosen up the joint.
Performing Downward-Facing Dog against a wall or a chair gets your wrists accustomed to bending farther backward, without having to bear all of your body weight. This begins to build up their strength so you can eventually move these poses to the floor.
Adjust Your Practice
If you're new to yoga or your wrists are tender, give wrist-heavy poses a break for a while. In the meantime, build up core strength, so you don't depend so much on your wrists in arm balances and Chaturanga. Do poses such as Boat, Plank — but on your forearms — and Dolphin.
As you do ease back into poses that use your wrists, examine your hand position. Note if you evenly distribute weight across all of your hand, including the knuckles, or concentrate it in the heels, which only aggravates the pressure on the wrists. Focus on pushing the mat away in Downward-Facing Dog and lifting up through your core in arm balances and Chaturanga, too.
If you have strength in your knuckles, use "fists for wrists." This simple technique reduces the angle to which your wrists bend and makes your forearms bear more weight. But, it can be intense on your fingers; it takes time to build up to make tolerable.
Prop Your Wrists Up
One of the reasons your wrists are sore has to do with the extreme angle at which they bend, so use a prop to help neutralize this angle. Place your hands on a set of dumbbells with squared-off heads or let the heels of your hands lean onto a rolled up mat; these strategies put your wrists at a less intense angle. Some manufactures make wooden, cork or foam wedges for just this purpose if you find the makeshift props unwieldy.
Another prop often used by weightlifters at the gym can help your wrists in your yoga practice. Wrist supports made of neoprene wrap around your wrist and brace the joint. They don't interfere with your hands' range of movement, however. Gymnasts, bench pressers and MMA fighters often use them to get over a sprain or to relieve wrist joint irritation.