Wrist Support: 5 Poses to Help Stretch & Strengthen your Wrists

Whether you're new to yoga, or a seasoned practitioner, there's a good chance you've experienced wrist tenderness at some point in your practice.  Many of the postures we regularly perform - Crow Pose, Wheel Pose, Chaturnaga, and even Downward Facing Dog - have us bearing weight in the delicate wrist joints.  Misalignment in these poses, or lack of necessary strength and flexibility, are some of the major reasons our wrists can feel sore during or after a practice. 

Poses that bear weight in the wrists

Poses that bear weight in the wrists

Incorporating targeted stretching & strengthening exercises into your routine is an effective way to alleviate wrist soreness and help prevent injury.  Below is a sequence of 5 poses to strengthen and mobilize your wrists as well as reduce tension in the surrounding areas (such as the hands, fingers, and forearms).

1. Wrist Circles

Wrist Circles

Wrist Circles

  • Curl your hand into a fist with your fingers wrapped over your thumbs.
  • Tightly clench your fists as you rotate your hands in a circular motion. Make the movements slow and deliberate, bringing your awareness to the muscles of your wrists.
  • Circle each wrist ten times before switching to the opposite direction.

2. Hand Under Foot Pose

  • From Mountain Pose begin to fold forward.  Bend your knees as much as necessary so that your belly connects with your thighs.
  • Place your hands on the ground with your palms facing upward.  Slide your hands under your feet until your toes are touching your wrists. 
  • Play around in the pose by shifting your weight forward and pressing the toes into the muscular part of the palms.  Your knees can remain bent, or you can straighten them for more of a challenge, if you feel comfortable doing so (make sure your hamstrings are properly warmed up first).
Hand Under Foot Pose (with bent knees)

Hand Under Foot Pose (with bent knees)

Hand Under Foot Pose

Hand Under Foot Pose

3. Upward Bound Finger Pose

Upward Bound Finger Pose

Upward Bound Finger Pose

  • Begin seated with your fingers snugly interlaced. Place the back of your hands on top of your head with the palms facing upward.
  • Slowly begin to straighten your arms as you raise them up toward the ceiling. Make sure to keep the muscles in your back and neck relaxed.  If you feel any tightening in the shoulders, back, or neck, pause and soften them before continuing.  
  • Once the arms are fully extended, slowly lower them back down so that your hands return to the top of your head with the palms facing upward.
  • Repeat this 5 times.  You can also perform this exercise by extending your arms straight out in front of your chest, and then returning your arms back above your head.

4. Table Pose Wrist Stretch

Table Pose Wrist Stretch

Table Pose Wrist Stretch

  • Begin in Table pose, with the hands on the floor directly under your shoulders and the fingers pointing forward.
  • Slowly begin to rotate the hands outward in a semi circle until your fingers are pointing back towards your body.
  • Hold for 6-10 breaths.  For a deeper stretch  you can gently ease the hips back and shift more of your weight into your heels.  You should feel a very deep opening in the wrists and forearms.  Take care to only go as far as feels right for you. 

5. Reverse Prayer Stretch (Phalen's Test)

Reverse Prayer Stretch

Reverse Prayer Stretch

  • Place the backs of his hands together at chest level, with both wrists completely flexed.
  • Press the hands firmly together (from the knuckles to the fingertips)  for up to one minute.
  • NOTE: Pain or tingling along the inside of the wrist may be an indication of carpal tunnel syndrome (always consult a medical professional first if you're experiencing any unusual pain).

4 Counterposes to Help Balance Your Practice

A counterpose in yoga is a posture that helps neutralize the body after performing a particular pose.  Its purpose is to restore balance in the body, especially in the spine and pelvis.  Very often a counterpose will integrate the action of the preceding posture, but in a neutralizing (and sometimes opposing) manner.  For example, after performing Cobra Pose (a gentle backbend), one possible counterpose would be Table Top Pose (which returns the spine to neutral).  Another option would be Downward Facing Dog Pose (which encourages lengthening and neutralizing the spine.)   Counterposes help us avoid injury and imbalances in the body, and most of the time, they feel good too.

Below are a few of my go-to counterposes (along with the poses they are countering):

1. Backbend/Knees to Chest

After practicing any kind of heart-opening pose, such as Wheel, Camel, or Bow Pose, the tendency is to want to take the body into a complete forward fold.  But moving back and forth between the two extremes can cause strain in the body.  A preferred counterpose would be a posture such as Knees To Chest, which gently stretches and neutralizes the spine:

To Perform Knees to Chest:

  • Lie on your back, with your legs and arms extended.  Exhale and draw both knees into your chest.  Clasp your hands around your knees if possible. 
  • Keep your back flat on the ground.  Draw your tailbone and sacrum downward, lengthening your spine.  Gently tuck your chin and gaze toward your knees.
  • Hold for 20 breaths.  Slowly release your knees and lower your feet to the ground.
Wheel Pose

Wheel Pose

Knees to Chest Pose

Knees to Chest Pose

2. Forward Fold/Upward Plank Pose

Forward folds, such as Paschimottanasana, are wonderful for stretching the back side of the body, including the spine and hamstrings.  A perfect counterpose would be one that gently opens the front side of the body, such as Upward Plank Pose (Purvottanasana), which stretches the shoulders, chest, and ankles:

To Perform Upward Plank Pose:

  • Begin seated with your legs extended and your hands a few inches behind your hips. Your fingers should be pointing forward, and your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Inhale and press your hands and feet down firmly down into the ground as you lift your hips upward. Raise your chest toward the sky, and keep your spine in a straight line.  Try to press the soles of your feet into the floor. Keep your leg muscles engaged, but don't squeeze your glutes.
  • Hold for 10 breaths.  Slowly lower your hips to the ground to release.
Seated Forward Fold

Seated Forward Fold

Upward Plank Pose

Upward Plank Pose

3. Headstand/Rabbit Pose

Headstand is commonly one of the first inversions that students learn.  Having the forearms and head on the floor provide a stable foundation for this inversion, but very often there's a lot of weight & pressure being placed on the head and neck (especially with beginners). Rabbit Pose is a wonderful way to counter that, however it's a also a pose needs to be performed carefully, to ensure that there is no strain in the neck:

To Perform Rabbit Pose

  • Begin in a kneeling position. Lean forward to place the crown of your head onto the ground (as close to your knees as you can.)
  • Reach back and grab hold of your heels (or ankles or calves) and begin to lift your hips as you lean forward slightly.  You'll start to feel a nice stretch along the back of your neck, but make sure to keep it gentle, and be careful not press your head down too hard.
  • Hold for 5 breaths.  Slowly lower your hips down to release.
Headstand

Headstand

Rabbit Pose

Rabbit Pose

4. Balasana: The Universal Counterpose

Child's Pose is a resting pose and therapeutic posture that can help relieve back and neck pain. Its is a calming counterpose that can be performed at any time during a practice because it helps to restore balance throughout the body.

Child's Pose

Child's Pose

To Perform Child's Pose:

  • Begin on your hands and knees.  Widen your knees slightly while keeping the big toes touching. Lower your seat down onto your heels. (You can keep your knees together if your hips are tight.)
  • Exhale and lower your torso down between your thighs.  Rest your forehead on the ground, and extend your arms long, with the palms facing down.  Lengthen your body from your hips to your armpits, and soften your lower back.  Keep your eyes closed.
  • Hold for 30 breaths.  Inhale and sit up to release.