Once we’ve arrived in Downward Facing Dog, we can move right into the next pose, right? Possibly, depending on the instructor’s sequence. But when you consider how much time we spend either holding or flowing through downward dog, it’s a pretty important pose to focus on in preventing wrist and shoulder pain.
There are plenty of other alignment tips that I’ll save for a future article, but one very important consideration in downward dog is that it actually feels easier the more you can push away from the ground, and overall that action will save your wrists and shoulders. In order to prevent wrist pain, you want to press evenly and firmly through all four fingers as well as your palm. But here’s the catch. Don’t just sag into your palms. You’ll want to keep the area that contains the carpal tunnel slightly lifted. Don’t know how to find that area? Look at your palm. On most people, there is a vertical crease that forms at the base. It deepens when you touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinky. It’s that point where your hand naturally folds together. Deep to that crease is the transverse carpal ligament, and underneath that structure is the median nerve. One cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is when there is too much pressure on the nerve at the wrist.
If you can learn to engage your hand and forearm muscles to keep this tunnel “open” instead of “flat”, you will have a much better chance of preventing overuse injury to your wrists from repeated downward dogs, planks, chaturangas, and arm balances. Here’s how you do it without burdening you with an anatomy lecture. Imagine you have a small pea placed right at the base of that crease, and if you drop that pea your dog would eat it and you’d be really sad because it was your last pea. The only catch is that you can’t bring your thumb and pinky together to help hang-on to the pea. You can use that same muscular action, but don’t actually touch thumb and pinky together. Now, eat the pea before you put your hand down on your mat (I know everyone harps on not eating before yoga, but really, it’s just a pea. I promise it won’t become a problem in the twisting asana series.) Think fondly of that pea, however, and imagine now that you place your hand on the mat, the pea is still there and you’re gently squeezing around it, but not so much you can’t also make good mat contact with your four spread fingers. Now place your other hand on the mat, and push up into downward dog, Breathe. Visualize whirled peas.
Tomorrow we will look at how to find a “seat” in chair pose that saves our knees.
One leg dog on a mountain photo credit: