I struggled for a long time with the concept of “yoga hands.” I didn’t understand what I was trying to achieve or what I was supposed to be trying to achieve. I didn’t understand the purpose or meaning behind it, and I just simply did not like it. In fact, I hated it. When it came to applying “yoga hands” to my practice my body would simply say, “Nothing about this feels good.” I would hear the cues and just roll my eyes and continue to do whatever felt right for my body. Don’t get me wrong, now as a yoga instructor, I follow the school of thought that as students of yoga we should always listen to our bodies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that rolling my eyes was the healthiest option. At the time I was experiencing not just pain, but pain that lasted. I was angry at myself. I was angry at my body. I just couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong, but I just kept pushing through it. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a very unhealthy way to practice, both physically and mentally.
So lets talk about typical cueing for yoga hands. “Plant your hands, spread your fingers, press evenly into your mat…” This is not to say that any of these cues are wrong necessarily, but the way I perceived these instructions at the time caused discomfort and eventually, excruciating pain that lasted. I overthink everything and I tend to go 💯 when it comes to my personal work out routine, so early on in my yoga practice I was going full force. There were other aspects of my life that were contributing factors as well. At the time I was a college student so the combination of vigorous note taking, flashcard making, and typing up research papers, in addition to the amount of time spent on my hands in my yoga practice was the perfect storm. Not to mention that although physically fit, I was also relatively new to yoga. As a result I began to battle tendonitis. Which doesn’t sound all that bad, but if you’ve had tendonitis, you know how annoying the constant pain and inflammation can be.
I began to ignore yoga hand instructions all together. I would keep my fingers a little closer together, cup my palms, or just prop up on my fists if it was a really bad day, but this was only a short term solution. Fortunately, working in physical therapy, I had all of the resources I needed to fight it. I tried everything from therapeutic exercise and soft tissue massage to athletic and kinesio tapings. While all of that may have improved my symptoms, it just kept coming back for more. An occupational therapist, who happened to be a hand specialist, told me that I should just avoid doing yoga all together 😳. This is definitely not what I wanted to hear, but what choice did I have? Tendinitis is commonly due to overuse, and all I did was over use. Once that inflammatory process starts it’s hard to get it under control. So I backed off a little, skipped a Vinyasa or two, added a child’s pose here and there, avoided arm balances, and over the span of the next year or so it finally resolved. From my experience, I think that prevention truly is the best medicine. So as I continued to practice yoga I really started to be more mindful of what my body needed and work within my means.
It wasn’t until I was in my yoga teacher training that I truly understood “yoga hands.” I finally understood why we say what we say. I was focusing so much on those hand cues that I wasn’t focusing on anything else. I was pretty physically fit when I started practicing yoga, so I thought I could do it all and I over did it. I wasn’t thinking in terms of the body as a whole, working as one unit, and I was putting the weight of the the world all on my wrists. The truth is, there will never be a perfect way to instruct proper alignment for any particular pose, or part of the body for that matter. I came from a physical therapy background regularly instructing exercise, so I have spent hundreds of hours thinking about the most effective way to instruct proper alignment to someone who maybe doesn’t typically exercise. As a yoga instructor, I’ve said a set of instructions that makes perfect sense to me and watched an entire room do the total opposite. Some instructions resonate with your students, and some simply do not. I like to follow a give and take theory. I like to give 2 or 3+ instructions, and then take something away. I find that it allows me to momentarily explore each instruction to the fullest and then adjust accordingly creating a kind of balance.
Yoga Hands (in downward facing dog)
Give: Plant hands (typically shoulder width), spread your fingers, press index and pinky finger into the mat, and then evenly press every part of your hand into the mat. Keeping all of that…
Take: Begin to create a little space in the wrist. Without lifting the base of the wrist off of the mat, start to draw the base of the wrist upward and feel your arms begin to engage drawing upward toward the scapula.
Tip: Use a 3 minute egg (you can also use a wedge or bolster) as a tactile cue in your down dog, you may be need a partner to wedge the 3 minute egg just up toward the base of the wrist.
Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.