Help! My wrists hurt in yoga! Part 3
So the first two posts in this series covered the woes of full wrist extension in yoga, pilates, athletics, etc. Now that we've established why wrist intensive postures can be too much for musicians (full wrist extension coupled with large load coupled with frequency= ouch!) let's look at some solutions for going to group fitness classes, whether they be yoga, barre, HIIT, or something else.
1. If you regularly go to a vinyasa flow-style class (usually titles might be "vinyasa flow," "Hot flow," "Dynamic stretch," "Power flow,"), feel free to skip any of the vinyasa movements that are wrist intensive (i.e. plank to chaturanga to updog, any arm balances, etc.) Just because everyone else in the class is doing something DOESN'T mean you have to do it, or that you have to repeat a sequence as many times as other people. It doesn’t make you a weaker person to take agency about your own body and what works.
2. Look for teachers who have experience with injuries, specialized conditions, anatomy, etc. The minimum required hours of training for yoga teaching is only 200 hours and many fitness trainers start doing weekend trainings, so look for folks who have additional teaching experience and have a teaching philosophy that shows adaptability. I have taken classes with teachers who are VERY defensive about modifying or allowing people to skip poses, and I've definitely been guilted into doing things I shouldn't because a teacher came over and said I should explore "my edge" or push myself. Give yourself permission to do what's right for you and don't attend classes where you feel unwelcome because of your restrictions or modifications. Regardless of your age, size, or ability, teachers don’t have a right to make you feel less than others if you don’t do everything they cue in a class.
3. Ask a teacher, trainer, PT, or coach (that you trust) to look at your setup, especially in Downward facing dog, planks, push ups, and other weight bearing positions. They can either help modify or alter the pose in a way that will challenge you but prevent discomfort or strain. They can also help you create a progression that will build strength and progressively load your wrists over time.
4. Look for styles of yoga that don't put as much emphasis in sequencing on wrist intensive poses. Ashtanga, vinyasa, and power classes tend to be more dynamic, weight-bearing, and wrist intensive. Iyengar, "slow flow," restorative, yin, and basics classes are usually slower and less weight bearing before you speed things up. (Bikram also puts minimal stress on the wrists, but I get headaches in 100 degree rooms. I leave that one with you.) If you’re looking at a gym, HIIT, or other class, some trainers throw in push ups for fun every few minutes, others look at quality of movement and more compound complex movements. Investigate, do some research, and make your choice.
5. Prop it up! Yoga props are sometimes a mysterious thing for some students, but they can really help to find new ways of practicing.
a. Foam or cork wedges can help decrease the wrist extension.
b. Grippy blocks can change the wrist position, but sometimes the gripping can make existing wrist problems worse.
c. Wrist guards- I had a pair of Wags (wrist assured gloves) for many years while I was rehabilitating from my tendonitis (ca. 2009), and they helped amazingly. There are many different sorts of wrist guards out there, but these have a built in wedge of silicone to decrease the angle of wrist extension, which helps a lot. They're also marketed to yoga, pilates, and TRX, so they're not just a yoga thing.
6. Consider trading your downward facing dogs, planks, and side planks for dolphin variations, which is on the forearms. Not only is forearm plank very challenging for the shoulders and core, it's not wrist intensive and will prepare your body for other weight bearing poses.
7. If you don't have any extra props available to you, just fold up the front part of your mat and boom!, you have a built in yoga wedge.
8. If a teacher tries to make you feel badly about your limitations, don't take it personally and do what you think is best. Some teachers now have a "more is more" attitude when it comes to vinyasas and intense poses, and they may have no idea about your needs. It's also not a race to see who can do the most chaturangas in a class.
9. Lastly, make sure you have solid hand alignment. Fingers are spread wide, with weight spread throughout the palm and knuckles. There is no one perfect shape for weight bearing hands, but there are definitely less advantageous shapes. When the weight sinks into the base of the palm, and is not distributed throughout the hand, it's often uncomfortable. Some people prefer middle finger pointed forward, others like the hand turned out slightly...different "alignments" for different people. Above all, remember that a lifetime of static positions (holding your instrument) means that your wrists, forearms, and shoulders need to slowly adjust to bearing weight. Whether you're a yoga person, pilates person, or strength and conditioning person, gradual change and adaptation is key.