The Importance of Hand Foundation
to Alleviate Wrist Pain in Yoga Postures and Weight Bearing Exercises
Do you have wrist pain after yoga class or exercises where you are weight bearing in your hands?
We live in the age of “tech neck,” “texting thumb,” “cell phone elbow” and other Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI), also known as tendonitis, which is inflammation in the tendons that work to move your joints. A regular yoga or fitness-based practice can be a great way to strengthen and stabilize your body, and alleviate pain, but because our bodies are under increasingly more stress and strain, it’s important to understand it’s basic mechanics to avoid injury.
Wrist pain, during weight bearing exercises, is an increasingly common complaint, particularly during a yoga class, because so many yoga poses require you to be weight bearing on your hands. Vinyasa based classes are especially demanding on your hands, as they include sun salutation sequences in high repetition. The primary four postures in those sun salutations are: High Plank, Chaturanga Dandasana, which is similar to a tricep push-up, upward facing and downward facing dog, all of which can cause major pain or injury to your wrists if not practiced correctly and mindfully.
Bones of the Arm
Did you know that there are 35 different muscles, and 27 bones that move and stabilize your hands? It takes a lot of awareness and practice to align them all correctly!
The two bones of the lower arm, the radius and the ulna, meet at the hand to form the wrist, which is made up of eight small bones called the carpal bones, connecting the hand to the forearm. The forearm bone closest to the thumb, the radius, is larger than the ulna, and is capable of bearing more weight because of its size. It is essential that we place more weight on the mounds of our thumb, index, and middle finger and less on the ring and pinky side.
By contrast, the ring and little fingers connect to a bone in the heel of the hand called the pisiform, which you can feel as a small but prominent bump at the heel of your hand, in line with your little finger. The ulnar artery and ulnar nerve pass through this space and are protected by a small sheath of fascia. If we consistently put weight on the heel of the hand, we not only irritate the soft tissues of the wrist, causing inflammation, but risk damaging the wrist by putting pressure on this nerve. The sensitive carpal tunnel at the center of the wrist can become inflamed as well. The hand is simply not built to take weight here.
The bones of the wrist are organized so that the strongest bone, the radius, transfers weight from the mounds of the thumb, pointer and middle fingers, directly to the upper arm bone, the humerus, which sits on top of the radius, and connects to the shoulder girdle. Most often, due to weak upper arm and shoulder strength, our weight automatically falls on the outside of our hands and on the heel of the palm, placing a great degree of tension on the ulna. The ulna, which facilitates the rotation of the forearm, is not meant to be directly weight-bearing.
Proper Hand Foundation and Hasta Bandha
Now that we understand how the wrist and forearm connect, specifically under load, we can learn proper hand foundation. “Hasta” means hand in Sanskrit, and “Bandha” means lock. When you engage hasta bandha or proper hand foundation, you ground down primarily through your thumb and forefinger mound, and lift through the center of your palm, creating a “suction cup” action. This engagement creates arches in your hands, which open up the carpal tunnel, alleviating pressure on the nerves, and gives you the support and stability needed for any weight bearing posture.
Proper Hand Foundation Step by Step:
Place your hands at the top of your mat. Spread your fingers wide, and make sure your wrists creases are parallel to the front of your mat.
Press all ten finger pads into your mat, like you’re gently clawing into it, with an emphasis on your thumb, pointer and middle fingers.
Next ground down through the knuckles or mounds of your thumb, point and middle fingers, and gently press into the outside edge of your hand. Lastly, begin to lift the center most part of your palm, creating a “suction cup” or hasta bandha seal lock.
The center most part of your palm will be lifted slightly, and there will be a small tunnel or arch between your thumb and forefinger, and at the heel of your hand. Initially, this activation is subtle, but it becomes more profound the more you practice and experience the upward-lift feeling of the bandhas.
From Foundation to Flow
There are so many yoga poses that require your hands to be on the ground and repeating these postures over and over with poor wrist and hand positioning, can lead to injury. Poor hand foundation can also make poses far more laborious than they ought to be. Becoming aware of every small detail transforms yoga from a physical practice into a tool for mindfulness and healing. When we begin to notice every little detail, every nuance of alignment, engagement and the interconnectedness of our bodies and our movement, we cannot space out, or go into auto-pilot. Once we establish a foundation, and open our awareness, our practice begins to come alive, and we can explore deeply our bodies and breath in life on and off of our mats.