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If you’ve ever experienced wrist pain, chances are you’re familiar with the frustration of trying to practice yoga in a studio setting. Group yoga classes are typically geared toward the greatest common denominator, which leaves little room to address people’s individual needs. You can probably relate to how awkward or cumbersome it feels when everyone else in class is moving through Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A) and you’re… what? Resting in Child’s Pose with little or no direction.
Yoga is for all bodies, including those with wrist pain. If you suffer from a wrist injury, arthritis, tendonitis, sprains, strains, and beyond, you can practice a Sun Salutation A without bearing weight on your wrists. (Keep in mind, though, that the best yoga cue for any student at any part of the practice is, “If it hurts, don’t do it.”)
I have always been interested in making my yoga classes accessible to anyone who walks through the door, but once upon a time, I had a class that really stumped me. Everyone had their own specific needs. This class became very dear to me. Learning so much from my students encouraged me to dig deeper and enroll in a yoga therapy program that I had my heart set on for quite some time. There I continued to learn from my teacher, Stephanie Anne Vitolo at Prema Yoga Institute, who introduced me to these techniques.
See also: Next-Level Wrist Protection Tricks
How to modify Sun Salutation A for sore wrists
Slowly Inhale and Exhale
Stand at the front of the mat with your feet parallel to the outer edges of the mat and your weight equally distributed between them. Your big toes can touch, you can leave an inch or two of space between your feet, or you can bring your feet hip-width apart if that feels better on your low back.
Lengthen your tailbone down toward your heels. Let your arms rest, palms facing forward, by your sides. Broaden across your chest. Tuck your chin slightly so you can feel your ears stacked over your shoulders and the back of your neck lengthening. Draw your front low ribs in and down.
From Mountain Pose, turn your palms to face outward, externally rotating through your shoulder, then reach your arms overhead. Draw your front ribs in toward your spine. You can bring your palms together to touch if it feels comfortable to do so while you keep your arms straight and reaching. Option to gaze up toward your hands. Relax your shoulders down your back, away from your ears.
From Upward Salute, begin to hinge at your hips and fold forward. If the ground feels far away, you can place your hands on blocks to keep your wrists straight. If you feel pressure on your low back, keeping a soft bend in your knees will help alleviate pressure in your lumbar region. Relax the crown of your head toward the earth and let your gaze fall toward the space behind you. Shift your weight forward from your heels and contract through your thighs to lift your femur bones up into your hip sockets.
From Standing Forward Bend, lift your torso halfway to find a flat back and an elongated spine. Rest your fingertips on your blocks. Micro-tuck your chin to lengthen through the back of your neck. Reach the crown of your head away from your tailbone as you reach your ribs away from your pelvis and lengthen through both sides of your waist.
Lunge to Tabletop With Blocks
From Standing Half Forward Bend with your hands on blocks, step one leg back into a lunge. Use the strength of your legs and core to support you in this movement and try not to rely on the blocks so much that you are bearing weight on your wrists. (Keep in mind, “modified” doesn’t always mean “easier.” You might actually work harder than people who rely on their wrists.) Lower your back knee to the mat.
From Low Lunge, bring your front knee back to meet the back. Keep your fingertips on your blocks rather than dumping weight into your wrists. At first, you may shift your hips back as much as you need to support your weight with little-to-no pressure on your bearing. As time goes on, you will develop the core strength to keep your hips forward over your knees. A subtle amount of pressure on the hands or even the pads of the fingers is OK, but know your limits with regard to weight on your wrists.
Forearm Tabletop (Instead of Plank)
From Tabletop with blocks, bring your forearms down to the mat, shoulder-distance apart. Keep your hips stacked directly over your knees and your shoulders stacked over your elbows. Your wrists should be directly in front of your elbows so your forearms make the shape of the number eleven. Ground through the outer edge of your elbow and the inner edges of your wrists. If your shoulders are collapsing in toward each other, draw your low ribs in until you find a neutral spine—think midway between Cat and Cow.
Tip: If your teacher cues Cat and Cow during class, practice them from Forearm Tabletop. It relieves your wrists of any weight-bearing and offers a new way to inform the shoulders and spine.
Chaturanga on Forearms
From Forearm Tabletop, begin to shift your shoulders forward toward your wrists. Keep broadening through your collarbone as you do so. Also keep your elbows pointing straight back and hug them in toward your ribs as you would in Chaturanga Dandasana. Draw your heels in toward your glutes. Try your best to draw your front ribs into your back body to engage your abdominals. (I am probably letting my spine arch a little bit too much in the above photo. It is something to practice toward!)
From Chaturanga, slide your heart forward and lift your chest into Sphinx Pose. Lower your shins and the tops of your feet to the mat. Press through the tops of your feet to engage the muscles of your legs. Press down into your forearms to drop your shoulders away from your ears and lengthen through your neck. Draw your low ribs away from the floor and in toward your back to support your lumbar spine. Try to gently drag the mat backward with your forearms to broaden across your chest.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) Substitute
Option One: Extended Child’s Pose
From Sphinx Pose, shift back into your Forearm Tabletop and then come onto your fingertips and walk them forward to extend your arms long in front of you. Hug your upper-outer arm bones down and in, without changing the placement of your hands, to engage through your external rotators and side bodies. You can start in Balasana (Child’s Pose) with your hips back toward your heels or keep your hips further forward over your knees, allowing some weight to disperse into the pads of your fingers.
Note that even though there is the option for your hips to remain above your knees, this modification is not Anahatasana (Puppy Pose). Instead of allowing your chest and shoulders to release toward the mat, draw your low ribs into your back-body and engage your abdominals. You want to mimic the long neutral spine of Downward-Facing Dog, whereas Anahatasana is a backbend.
Option Two: Dolphin Pose
From Sphinx Pose, tuck your toes and lift your hips off the mat to come into Forearm Plank. Begin to walk your toes in toward the front of the mat until you come to an inverted V in Dolphin Pose. Ground through the outer edges of your elbows as well as the inner edges of your wrists. Press your elbows into the mat to lift your shoulders away from your ears and draw them down your back. Continue to draw your low ribs into your back body. Contract through the fronts of your thighs. Let your neck relax and your head hang between your biceps. You want the same sense of lengthening through your back as you feel in Downward-Facing Dog Pose.
Tip: If you feel rounding in your lower back, micro-bend your knees to lessen the pull on your hip flexors and to create space for the lumbar spine to elongate.
From either Down Dog substitute, come back to Forearm Tabletop by bringing your knees beneath your hips and your wrists beneath your shoulders.
Tabletop With Hands on Blocks
From Forearm Tabletop, come back into a modified Tabletop with your hands on blocks.
Lunge Step Forward
From your Tabletop substitute, use the strength of your core to step one foot forward. Lift your back knee off the mat and come into Low Lunge with your hands on blocks. Make sure your front leg is opposite the leg you had forward earlier in your lunge. Rather than press your hands into the blocks to step forward, press down through your front foot into the mat, to step the back leg forward to meet the front leg. If you need to use the blocks for a little support stepping forward, come onto your fingertips and press into the pads of your fingers rather than your palms.
From stepping forward from Lunge, hinge at your hips to fold forward. If the ground feels far away, you can place your hands on blocks to keep your wrists straight. Relax the crown of your head toward the earth and let your gaze fall toward the space behind you.
From Standing Forward Bend, slowly lift your chest and reach your arms overhead. You can bring your palms together to touch if it feels comfortable to do so while you keep your arms straight and reaching. Option to gaze up toward your hands.
From Upward Salute, lower your hands at your sides, palms facing forward. Broaden across your chest. Repeat Sun Salutation A, continue with another pose in your practice, or pause and breathe.
About our contributor
Jenny Clise has been teaching yoga since 2012. Her classes are inspired by many schools of yoga, but her favorite style of yoga to teach is alignment-based flows. She is an avid traveler and leads retreats around the world. She is also the author of the yoga e-book BLOCKASANAS. To learn more about Jenny, her classes, or upcoming events, check out JennyClise.com or follow her on Instagram @jennyclise.