As a yoga studio owner, I have taught thousands of yoga classes now, as a instructor of private classes, group classes, workshops, and trainings. One of the issues that I see in the majority of my students is wrist weakness and/or pain. Most of these complaints come from the overuse of the wrists at a keyboard, serving jobs and heavy tray-carrying, a previous fall, or (even worse) repeat patterning in their yoga practice.
The wrist problem often arises in our Vinyasa style class, which is my favorite style to teach. I have found that it is a great way for new students to understand some of the most basic, but also most important elements, of a practice. Vinyasa Yoga encourages breath with movement, and the breath, in my opinion, is one of the most important elements in a yoga practice. However, the foundation of Vinyasa Yoga includes our Sun Salutation sequence. This sequence includes plank, chaturanga dandasana (four limbed staff), cobra (or upward dog), and downward dog. All of these poses can cause major pain or injury in the wrists if they are not mindfully practiced. I am also a huge fan of props, so I will explain some ways to integrate props into your practice to avoid repetitive patterns that cause injuries in the wrists. When reading this, please remember that your experience may be completely different than others'. This is why I will give you several tips and solutions to ease wrist pain in your yoga practice, but it is up to you to decide what works best for you. You can discover this by....you guessed it...practicing and trying these solutions!
It's important to discuss the primary reasons that yoga can cause or perpetuate wrist pain. There are two main elements in all poses that take precedence in our practice: Foundation and Alignment. In our asana practice, our awareness begins with our foundation. This carries into our wrists in many of the poses when our hands are our foundation. People tend to misplace their foundation into certain areas of their hands when they are in poses like plank and downward dog. They place the majority of the weight on the heals of the hands, right near the wrist crease. This puts undo pressure on the small wrist joint and, over time, will cause pain. Be sure that you are distributing the weight of your body into the "balls" of the fingers and the knuckles, as well. I've even found it helpful to try "gripping" the floor with the fingertips. Mindfulness of where you are placing the weight in your hands is key.
You may also find that a thinly folded blanket can be helpful if placed underneath the heals of the hands. This tends to assist in the grounding of the forward parts of the hands and the knuckles, displacing the weight away from the wrists. However, while in plank pose, you might try "clicking back though your heals." This will increase the angle of your wrists and keep the weight from being placed directly above your wrist joints.
Also, keep in mind that your yoga mat is an important prop in your practice, as well. If you have a mat that causes you to slip, you will bear down and tense up more in the wrists to prevent your hands from sliding in poses like downward dog. It is well worth the extra money to purchase a mat that really does allow you to ground into your hands without being sticky. I recommend the Manduka eKO mat line. After trying several different brands of mat, the eKO mat is, by far, the best for creating a non-slip and non-stick foundation for your hands and feet.
Chaturanga Dandasana can be one of the main reasons that wrist problems originate or get worse for yogis. While moving through the vinyasa sequence of a sun salutation, we tend to rush through their decent from plank into cobra or upward dog. When done incorrectly, we either push our weight back too far when coming down to the floor or come too far down (to hover) altogether. Another pattern is that practitioners will lower down faster through their head and chest, causing mis-alignment in the wrists and elbows.
To solve these issues, we can easily practice Chaturanga by following one of two options. First, shift your weight slightly forward and then lower down (SLOWLY!) all the way to the floor with the elbows hugging into the ribcage. This would be directly followed by cobra pose. Or, we can lower down half-way, so that the elbows come to 90 degrees, again, hugging tightly into the sides of the torso. From here, you move slowly into Upward Dog, with the chest forward and lifted.
Additionally, I have also found it incredibly helpful to practice Chaturanga with a block under my sternum at its lowest setting. It gives me a very good measurement of how far to come down to bring my elbows at 90 degrees...and no more! Remember, when practicing this transition, you can always modify by lowering the knees to the floor. And one more tip...try to remember to pause in the actual pose itself--four-limbed staff. All to often, people tend to "dip" through the movement, which is what causes the issues in the wrist to worsen.
All-in-all, it is worth your time and effort to try these different suggestions. The distraction of sore wrists can take you away from the Bliss of your practice, which is why we come to our mat in the first place! Being mindful and finding solutions for your wrist problems so that you can continue with your practice is you showing compassion to yourself! And that is where the healing aspect of yoga begins.
In Love and Light,