While people often sign up for yoga to manage stress and work out muscle tightness, practicing yoga isn’t completely risk-free. Thankfully, paying attention to specific alignment cues can go a long way toward preventing common yoga injuries.
Common injuries in yoga: wrists
There are 13 bones in the wrist, with 18 supporting muscles in the wrists and forearms. These bones and muscles allow us to do amazing things with our hands, but they weren’t made to support the body for long periods of time. So, in preparing for arm balances or poses where weight is put on the wrists, like downward facing dog or upward bow, it’s important to notice the positioning of your hands and which muscles you are using to support them.
With specific hand placements and wrist rotation, you can avoid some of the most common yoga injuries. Yogis often experience wrist pain after they have gotten into the habit of practicing with poor alignment and hand placement. Avoiding common injuries in yoga is easy once you know where to properly place your hands and which alignment is prone to cause wrist injury.
In plank pose, for example, place the hands slightly wider than shoulder distance apart and line the middle of the wrist with the outer edge of the shoulder. Make sure the wrists are one hand length in front of the shoulder instead of directly underneath. Point the index fingers forward, making it parallel to the long edge of the mat and spread the remaining fingers wide.
On top of hand placement, where you apply pressure on your hands is equally important for the stabilization of your wrists. Instead of putting your weight on your palms, aim to press the knuckle of your index finger into the floor and grip with all of your finger tips. Keeping this alignment in all poses that require weight on the hands will assist in both strengthening the muscles of the wrists and forearms, while also preventing injuries.
Avoiding a shoulder yoga injury
The rounding of the back encourages strained muscles in the back and front of the shoulders, while weakening the muscles across the chest. This can cause impingement and rotator cuff issues over time, but thankfully opening the chest (even by doing a quick doorway stretch) can help reverse these issues.
A common misalignment in the shoulders occurs in the transition from plank to chaturanga. To help create strength and alignment, try recreating the movements of chaturanga in a standing mountain pose.
Extend the arms forward with the hands flexed, palms facing away from you. Spread the fingers and grip an imaginary mat, then push as if you were pushing that mat away. Keep that engagement and move the shoulder blades down, which will activate the lower and middle trapezius muscles. Next, bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle, keeping them close to the sides of your body as you move your forearms parallel to the floor. Engage your abdomen, press your tailbone in and firm your quadriceps. This should be work! The more muscles you can use to support the shoulders, the happier that joint will be.
What to do about elbow pain?
The elbow is what is known as a “dumb joint.” This means that it blindly does whatever movement the joints above and below assigns it. Creating a strong support system of the wrists and shoulders will help guide this “dumb joint” toward proper alignment and away from common elbow pain.
I often see elbow issues caused by a lack of shoulder mobility, particularly in overhead movements. If thinking about yoga for tendinitis of the elbow, prone backbends, like bow pose or cobra, can be beneficial. These poses stretch the back, shoulders and chest without putting weight on the hands and wrists.
I think of alignment as Dharana, which is focused concentration as part of the sixth limb of yoga. Knowing where my body is in space and time, and keeping that focus even through movement and change, allows a deeper connection to my practice. Even if you practice yoga at home or only like flow yoga, taking a class with an alignment based instructor can give you a solid foundation to build both your yoga practice and your knowledge of your body.
Remember, modifications are variations, not lesser poses— so, don’t hesitate to take on a variation that will be kinder to your body. This temple is yours for life, so take care of it during and outside of your yoga practice. Who knows, building a strong foundation for your practice now could set you up for an even better practice, or at least a stronger body, when you’re 80!
About the Author
Wendy Webb is a homeschooling mama and a lover of arm balances, coffee, and mountains. She’s been teaching heated, alignment flow, chair yoga and mindful movement in the woods of Maine since 2005.