Images of hands in namaste or reverse namaste commonly symbolize the serenity that accompanies yoga practice. Whereas a more common experience is pain in the wrists and hands which means that “stock” poses – cats, dog, plank etc – become problematic. Our advice is to explore and to back off where necessary but, in a class setting, this is very difficult for students to do when others are fully “in the pose”.
Our practice is less about doing the pose and more about feeling the movement of bones; balancing the structures that hold those bones. In class we have been trying to help with wrist and elbow pain by improving the function of the shoulder blades and shoulder girdle. Standing and making fists then stretching the hands, as we roll the arms back and gradually raise the arms to a comfortable level – feeling the shoulder blades respond to support the shoulder girdle. When we lie on one side with the knees bend and the hips stacked, we investigate the movement of the shoulder, shoulder blades and arms. We explore movement rather than stretch since the emphasis upon “stretch” can become addictive – stretching more and more can lead to instability. A website on tendinitis states that understanding the stretch point is the first key to healing injuries:
The Stretch Point is just a very small stretch, but we’ll need to measure how small it is to make sure we’re doing it right and doing it the same way each time. The stretch point is the amount of stretch that subsides when held for 15 seconds.
Let’s try it – put both hands together in front of your face as if you were going to pray. But, these are very subtle sensations, so do this in a quiet place, when your mind is quiet and where you will have no interruptions. Next, raise your elbows slowly out and upwards keeping your hands in the same position. When you feel a very small stretch, stop and hold that position. Start counting – you should start to feel the stretch fade. If it fades substantially within 15 seconds, you just found the Stretch Point, congratulations. If it takes 45 seconds, your stretch was too strong, try again.
The site also contains videos of movements using a door frame that are similar to our making fists, stretching the hands and gradually raising the arms. The door frame provides support and the turning of the head to one side is useful, I think. However, I had to be careful to “control” my jutting ribs as I did these. I am more questioning of other aspects of the site but you can judge for yourself.
An information leaflet produced by Oxford University NHS Trust is very useful.
In our practice, we regularly extend the toes and curl the toes, we should perhaps get into the habit of doing the same with the fingers – mapping the movements in our motor cortex. For example, making soft fists and slowly working through the range of movement in the wrists (as we do with our spine) – flexing, extending, sideways movement, rotations. Such movements are illustrated on the NHS Inform website.
In our sensory approach to yoga we focus less on structure and more on the intention for movement. Muscles constantly adjust their tone to control our movements. In “Theories of Movement”, Peter Blackaby writes:
.… Repeating movements, exploring and experimenting with how they feel help us get a better grasp on how our body carries out our intention…..
When we explore spinal movement on all fours and the wrists complain, we move the hands around, move the shoulders, turn the hands. We sense areas that do not “comply” with the intention of the movement – namely freeing the spine and releasing tension in the chest and shoulders. It may be more useful to stay in this exploration of how well the hands meet the ground than rolling up into dog pose. By sensing whether we can “plant” the hands rather than “push”, we provide a more balanced support for poses such as dog and plank. This requires patience and willigness to be present with our movement and breath – perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of our practice.
If you get time, have another look at the 3 blogs on shoulders:
As ever, if you find anything helpful , in this blog or from another source, please share it.
With the arrival of spring and the hope of a good few months of outdoor activity, the next post will be on common upper limb problems such as tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.