Yoga Anatomy: Avoid Hand and Wrist Injuries
Think of the number of times your hands and wrists are connected to the earth and carry your weight in a typical Hatha Yoga practice. Like our feet, our hands frequently become a crucial foundation from which our postures build and express themselves. Sustaining mindful engagement of our hands will support a life-long practice that is free of negative stress conditions and injuries to the wrist. Let’s look at some anatomical aspects to give us empowerment and motivation to explore our unique positioning and engagement of the hands and wrists.
The wrists are formed by our 2 forearm bones (the radius and ulna). They meet dat the wrist joint where there is cluster of small bones (carpal bones). The carpal bones connect with 5 long bones (metacarpal bones) that make up the palm of the hand. From there, the metacarpal bones connect to the bones of the fingers (phalanges). The carpal bones form a tunnel through which tendons and nerve tissue pass to service the hand and fingers. One primary focus of hand engagement is to avoid collapsing into this tunnel and keeping excessive pressure from cascading into that track of muscle and nerve tissue.
One primary focus of hand engagement is to avoid collapsing into this tunnel and keeping excessive pressure from cascading into that track of muscle and nerve tissue.
Another key structural area to consider is the joint connection between the ulna and the carpal bones. If you turn your hand open (supination of the forearm and wrist), your ulna is the inside forearm bone (medial side). Unlike the radius (lateral or thumb side) that has a direct joint connection to the carpal bones, the ulna has indirect joint connection. Instead, there is a piece of fibrocartilage (designed to absorb stress forces) between the ulna and carpal bones along with a network of supporting ligaments – this area is called the Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex. When we look at the overall differences in joint connection, the radius also has a larger joint surface compared to the ulna. This gives indication that most people are best served to deliver a greater proportion of their force and energy through the radial side of the wrist than through the ulnar side.
How Does This Play Out in Terms of Applications?
Increase your surface area
It is common in postures like Downward Facing Dog to lift the index finger pad and have the body weight fall into the outside or ulnar side of the wrist – besides shifting force away from the radial side where the wrists are better structured to receive loads, the overall surface area of the hands decreases. When surface area decreases, pressure increases (from basic physics, Pressure = Force / Surface Area) and ultimately, this increased pressure is directly into the ulnar side of the wrist. So, by keeping a rooting sensation through the index finger and thumb pads, surface area increases, pressure decreases, and we ease that overall pressure to be carried more properly through the radial side of the wrist and not have it so heavily isolated into the ulnar side of the wrist.
Play with rooting and cupping
Hasta Bandha (“hand locks”) can come in many forms and techniques. While rooting through the index finger and thumb pads, also play with grounding motions through the middle, ring, and pinky fingers. Explore how you can creating a subtle lift through the palm of the hand – this cupping motion strengthens wrist muscular and takes pressure and collapse out of the carpal tunnel region. Note: when rooting through the index finger and thumb pads, this will create an inwards spiral of the forearm (pronation). Be mindful of the kinetic chain effect in your shoulder. As you pronate the wrist, try to lightly counter-spiral the upper arm bone (external rotation). This is will enhance shoulder stabilization and integrity. I find the ideal amount of pronation and shoulder external rotation will cause the crease of my elbow to look diagonally inwards towards my thumb. If the creases are looking at each other or directly forward towards the middle fingers, there may be too much of one spiral and not enough of the other.
Explore spreading of the hands and angles of the wrist
Find a balance of spreading the fingers (abduction) that creates a natural, inherent support for your wrists. Often, too much finger spreading creates unnecessary tension and rigidity. No one, specific alignment of the hands is perfect – we are all build differently, so play with how it best feels to align, angle and set the line of the fingers and wrists.
Changing hand width can do wonders
When the hands are close, we tend to have force loads bearing down more through the ulnar side of the wrist and into the Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex. When the hands are moved wider (and it doesn’t take much adjusting), force loads are often shifted more into the radial side. Give that try – do a small pushup movement with hands close versus wide and notice where the loading is most predominant in the wrist. From there, try slightly different hand widths in postures like Downward Facing Dog, Crow, and Upward Facing Dog .
How can hand width variability enhance these types of postures?
Remember that our bone structures are highly variable along with lifestyle patterns – some of us need to apply care and attention for the carpal tunnel, others for the ulnar side of the wrist, and even some of us have structural conditions in the radial side that require accommodation and modifications. There is never a need to practice with discomfort. Move and adjust to find your authentic lines of engagement. Also consider that Hatha Yoga is a means of applying ‘positive stress’ to our tissues to waken, strengthen, and expand them. But with any exercise program, a prudent approach to progressive, holistic overload of tissues (whether it be strengthening or stretching) is the incorporation of rest. Mix up your sequencing and styles of practices so that you can provide periods of rest for your hands and wrists. Mindfulness and nurturing go a long way in supporting a vibrant practice.
Consider that Hatha Yoga is a means of applying ‘positive stress’ to our tissues to waken, strengthen, and expand them.
3 Exercises to Strengthen Your Hips and Balance Your Body
In yoga we often speak of tight hips, needing to open the hips, balancing the opening of our hips from side to side (etc), but there is more to a balanced body than open hips. We also need stability and support from our hips. This is important not only in yoga but also in day-to-day activities like simply walking. It is especially important if you are an athlete and need to perform on one leg.
A Look Inside the Hip Our hip musculature is made up of many muscles, large and small. For stability, we need the muscles of the side of the hip to be active and engaged. If you place your hands on the sides of your bony pelvis below your waist, you can imagine a tear-drop-shaped area below the ridge of your pelvis. The front part of the tear is the Tensor Fasciae Latae or TFL which connects with your IT band to join at the knee. At the back part of the teardrop are the Gluteus Medius and Minimus, which lie underneath your big Gluteus Maximus.
These muscles are what support and keep you steady in balance poses or when you transfer weight from one leg to the next as you walk or run. For many of us, these muscles are fast asleep, so we recruit our hip flexors at the front or our glutes and our hamstrings at the back to do a job they were not designed to do. Over time this can lead to low back pain and sacroiliac joint pain. Forcing our body to compensate will lead to problems over time. A look outside the hip Tree pose can be a simple test to see if we are accessing our side/lateral hip stabilizers.
Stand in front of the mirror and take a medium-size tree pose with your foot resting on the shin (even if you can go higher). Place your hands on your bony pelvis again and see if they are level from side to side. If not, press the shin into the foot and the foot back into the leg so that the standing hip drops to make the hips level. If this is too difficult to achieve, keep your foot off the ground but come out of tree pose so that your knee is facing forward, raised to hip level with the knee bent.
Try to level the hips again here by firmly rooting into the ground with the standing leg. My Three Favorite Lateral Hip Exercises Most of us can benefit from a little extra love and attention to the side of our hips. Try these exercises to wake up your hips and begin to stand taller on one leg
1. Kick the Ball Standing: Lift one foot off the ground. Keep your leg straight and send your heel forward, toes pointing out as if you were passing a soccer ball in slow motion. Reverse this motion by turning your toes in and sending your leg behind you. Flow forward and back, heel in and out, in a short arc. Don’t forget about your standing leg: root into the earth and don’t let the hip hitch out to the side. Repeat this motion ten times and then switch sides.
2. Clam Shell: Lie on your side with either your arm or a foam block supporting your head. Bend both hips to 90 degrees with knees bent, feet touching, stacked on top of each other. Slowly lift your top knee up towards the sky while keeping your feet together (as if you were a clamshell opening). Keep your hips stacked and avoid rotating with the pelvis. Lower, repeat times, and switch sides.
3. Bicycle: Lie on your side with both legs straight. Flex your feet, as if standing, and stack them on top of each other. Lift your top leg so that feet are hip-width apart. Keep this distance as you flow through this sequence: a) knee bent move forward to the hip at 90 degrees, b) straighten at the knee, c) float straight leg back to start. This should look like you are slowly pedaling a bike. Keep the hips stacked and stable. Strengthening our lateral hips will not only improve our yoga practice, but will also balance our body and prevent injury so that we continue to walk, vinyasa, and run for years to come.