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Feedback From the Field: Wrist Modifications

In a previous issue of Inner IDEA Body-Mind-Spirit Review, we asked: What kind of modifications do you offer for yoga participants who complain of wrist pain? Here’s what you had to say.

“Many of my students and clients are office workers who use keyboards a lot. They often complain of wrist pain in plank or downward dog positions. I always let them try the traditional positions for these poses for a few seconds to help them build strength. During plank I suggest making a fist and keeping the wrists straight or I suggest a ‘forearm’ plank. During downward dog I cue to ‘work to flatten out the wrists by moving the weight back and into your heels.’”
— Helen Lawson, Schenectady, New York

“I have two clients with bad wrists. I took a yoga block and diagonally sliced it in half. Each piece is now a gently angled triangle. I place these on the floor, with the hands on top slanting downward. This keeps the wrist at approximately a 35 degree angle, instead of a 90 degree plus angle. It works!”
— Sue Delaney

“I’ve seen several factors diminish wrist pain in yoga participants. Most people do not use the whole hand when practicing downward dog or even cat/cow. The shoulder position in these poses also helps—better lengthening, alignment and support. I cue students to ‘press into the thumb and forefinger, taking any cupping out of the hands.’ For the shoulders I ask them to ‘roll the shoulders away from the ears’ when they are on all fours first, then have them maintain that as they move into downward dog, broadening the space between the shoulder blades as they glide away from the ears. I also remind them to actively lengthen the muscles, including the core, which gives the needed support.”
— Deborah George

“I teach yoga to high school kids. Many of them complain of wrist problems and the cues need to be simple. These kids will tune me out if I use too many wordy cues. I simply say things like, ‘press your fingertips into the mat,’ or press your ‘pointer’ finger into the mat. As the class progresses, I use other simple cues like ‘press your knuckle area into the mat.’”
— Kimberley B. Hieatt, Los Angeles

“If a participant complains of wrist pain, I try to give them several options. In a pose such as downward facing dog, I encourage them to place their hands on a wedge or the edge of a yoga blanket to decrease flexion. If they still complain, I give them the option of going to the forearms. Since many of the members at my studio are over 60, we have actually put a class on the schedule called “Wrist-Friendly Yoga.” The class focuses on standing poses, balancing poses and seated postures that require minimal pressure on the wrists. The class has been very well-received and attracts people with wrist issues and people who are new to yoga as well.”
 — Jackie Camborde, Santa Fe, New Mexico

“If I am teaching to a class of new participants, I always tell them to listen to what their bodies are telling them and take it to their own level, not mine. If I notice anyone having difficulty with any of the exercises (for example, clutching a body part, in this case the wrists), I will stop and explain that they may want to modify their technique. Here is one option I give: grab two dumbbells that allow the hands to fully wrap around the circumference without touching the mat, keep the wrists straight and weight from the upper body centered over the heels of the palms, and then position the dumbbells in the natural position the hands and arms tend to want to rest or move.

“I also recommend to those who can’t do either of the modified exercises without a little pain to talk to their doctor; it could be something more serious. I always offer modifications for every part of the body being worked at the time. And if they can’t do the modification, I will offer an alternative exercise that will work the same body part, but in a different way. The key is to keep the wrists as straight as possible. I stress again, I recommend a doctor’s consultation because it could be a more serious condition than just overuse.”
— Gina M. Wilson

“The first cue I offer in downward facing dog to support the wrists is to keep all fingers active, paying particular attention to the ‘L’ of the thumb and index finger (a block between the hands can help here). Lifting up through the wrists and sending the forearms slightly forward helps to alleviate the problem of ‘hanging’ in the wrists. For students with carpal tunnel syndrome or other wrist issues, I have them fold back the front edge of the mat and place the heel of the hand on the mat, fingers on the ground. Most importantly I try to help students become aware of the activation required to support the wrists, and this begins at the core—moving through gravity rather than hanging in it.”
— Heather Agnew, Canberra, Australia

“When I have people with wrist problems, or who complain of wrist pain in downward facing dog, I simply tell them to modify by using the dolphin style downward facing dog, or lowering to the elbows and forearms. Same goes for cat/cow. I have several dental hygienists who work all day with their hands, and are tired and weak, and also a girl who just had wrist surgery who has ligament damage, and that modification works great for everyone! It’s also good for people who feel that downward facing dog is too much for their shoulders and need a break, but do not want to take a child’s pose.

— Chelle Jones, Mobile, Alabama


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