You don't have to have done any yoga to do these stretches! However, keep in mind that these are NOT intended for anyone who has or is recovering from a serious injury, and remember that in yoga, pain = no gain: so if you feel pain in any of the stretches, stop doing it immediately.
I'll start with some simple exercises, and then include a few general tips about wrists in yoga practice at the end of the post. Unfortunately I don't have my camera handy, but I will update this post at a later date to include some pictures!
Simple exercises for stretching and strengthening the wristsRemember that yoga works through a combination of movement, intention and breath! So before you do these stretches, establish a deep, even breath. As you go through the exercises, keep the rhythm of the breath in mind, and focus your awareness on the sensations you are feeling.
1. Circles with fists
- Start in a kneeling position, and stretch your arms out to either side (keeping the shoulders relaxed as much as you can).
- Beginning on an exhalation, make fists with the hands, squeezing tightly. As you inhale, flex the fingers and thumb out as wide as they will go. Repeat this 5-10 times.
- Next, inhale and press the palms away from you and spread the fingers wide (as if you were pushing away two walls on either side of you). Exhale and bring the tips of the fingers and thumb together in a "point", and draw the point down towards the floor and maybe even farther back towards your body.
- Repeat this inhale/exhale 5-10 times
- Come to the inhale (palm press) position. Engage the arm muscles and really press outwards through the palms as if you were pushing away two walls on either side of you (recollections of Star Wars, anyone??). Stay for 5 breaths.
- Come to the exhale (pointing) position. Draw the "point" towards your body and stay for 5 breaths.
- Experiment with moving the wrists in slow circles, with the hands in either the palm press or the "point" position. Do this for 5-10 breaths and then switch directions. Get creative - see if you can have one wrist go one way and the other wrist move in the opposite direction!
- Shake out the wrists
- Begin with the palms flat on the mat, fingers spread wide. Lift all the fingers up off the mat, and then from thumb to pinky press them all down again, and then from pinky to thumb, lift them up again. Do this a few times. You can also lift one finger at a time and then replace it.
- Very gently, turn the right fingertips back towards the body, placing the palm on the floor, and stretch the wrist in this reversed position. If it feels ok, you can also gently wiggle the fingers and thumb here. Hold for about 5 breaths then repeat on the left hand.
- If the above two felt good, you can also repeat this turning the hands to the right, and then to the left. so that if you had an imaginary compass, you would have completed the exercise with the fingers pointing in all four main directions.
- Very gently, lift up the right hand and place the back of the hand on the floor, with the fingertips pointing towards you. Waggle the fingers and thumb slowly a few times. Then draw the tips of the fingers and thumb together in the "point", lifting the fingertips off the floor to point up towards your body. Be very gentle and only go as far as feels ok. After 5-10 breaths, release and do the other side.
- Come back to kneeling, and gently massage the wrists and lower arms, or shake the wrists out to release any other tension.
Some general tips about wrists in yoga asana
- Always check the alignment of your hands in downward dog. Ideally, your hands should be as wide apart as your shoulders. Wrist pain in yoga can sometimes originate from the shoulders, so really check this if you aren't sure! You can use a bit of chalk or a crayon to mark where your shoulders are on the mat if you are lying down, and then place the hands accordingly. Next, fingers should be spread, with the middle fingers pointing straight forwards and the thumbs pointing towards each other. This should make it so that the creases of the wrists are aligned parallel to the front edge of the mat.
- Practice your alignment and taking weight onto your hands by using a wall: placing your hands at shoulder height, palms against a wall, fingers spread as wide as you can, and push your palms strongly into the wall. Practice pressing evenly through the palms and engaging the muscles of the arms. Then, gently lean towards the wall, bringing a bit of weight to bear onto the hands, and practice holding for 5-10 breaths.
- Try to press evenly through the hands, especially by pressing through the base of the thumb, the base of the index (pointer) finger, and the outside edge of the hand. Also, take some of the load into the lower arms by pressing the fingertips into the mat and strongly engaging the muscles in the forearms.
- Consider using some support, especially if you are new to yoga or have very delicate wrists. One option is to place a foam block under each hand - this is a great way to do downward dog in general, and also works for other poses with funky wrist alignment (note: if you are doing this, it helps to put the blocks against the wall to make sure they don't slip, especially if doing a pose like urdvha dhanurasana). Another option is to use a rolled up yoga mat or a nice firm blanket at the top of your mat, and place your hands on it rather than the floor.
- Modify the pose: Respect your body and don't push it too far! For downward dog, another alternative if your wrists are bugging you, say in a vinyasa class, but you still want the benefits of the pose, is to bring your forearms to the floor for a modified downward dog (also called dolphin pose).
- If you are doing stronger postures like arm balances, you can create a more forgiving surface for your hands by folding up your mat or using a firm folded blanket or a towel (make sure your hands won't slip).
[top image from: source: biggmotivation.com]