Injuries can be frustrating and upsetting, especially when the area that’s hurt feels primary to the heart of your asana practice. If you’re a member of the vinyasa yoga, Power Yoga, or Ashtanga Yoga communities, you definitely rely on your wrists for a majority of your practice.
Your wrists are very small joints that are not made for bearing the weight of your whole body, and your asana practice can put large weight requirements on them. You may have come to yoga with weak wrists or perhaps acquired a wrist injury from misalignment in postures. Regardless of the reason you have wrist problems, do not fear: You can easily modify a practice (vinyasa flow or otherwise) with other postures. Remember, moving slowly is the key to avoiding injury, so take it easy. Modify carefully and insert these poses to help you enjoy your practice even when you can’t do everything. The good news is that just because you can’t lean on your wrists, it doesn’t mean you can’t explore, strengthen, and grow in other ways.
pose swaps to protect your wrists
If you can’t do Crow Pose …
See also Next-Level Wrist Protection Tricks
Do a squat
Crow Pose is an arm balance, and unfortunately, if you have a wrist injury, arm balances are not your friend. Placing the entire weight of your body on your hands and wrists will only increase your pain and potentially make your injury last longer. We often think arm balances mostly require strong arms and a strong core. The truth is that to do a successful arm balance you need to have a lot of flexibility in your hips and legs. So, instead of doing Crow Pose you can do Malasana (Garland Pose), a squat, which will increase the flexibility in your hips and inner thighs.
Come onto the middle of your mat and take your feet a little wider then hip-distance apart. Bend your knees and come down to a squat. Make sure your feet are turned out slightly toward the edges of your mat so that your knees and toes are pointing in the same direction. Start with your hands in prayer position and take a few breaths here. Try to stretch your heels to the floor, but if they don’t get there naturally, don’t push it; it’s OK to do this pose on your toes. (Instructions continued on next slide.)
After a few breaths with your hands in prayer, start to walk your hands forward and round your spine. Bring your chin to your chest, and with your hands shoulder-distance apart, come up onto your fingertips and squeeze your fingertips onto the mat like you’re squeezing hand-sized balls. (This action will help to strengthen the muscles in your hands, which will help you later when you’re ready to bear weight on your hands and wrists again.) Stay here for a few breaths. To come out, walk your hands back, lift your hips, and fold forward over your legs.
If you can’t do Handstand …
Do Forearm Balance
Handstand is a wonderful inversion, but Forearm Balance is just as good, if not better. Both inversions get your hips and legs above your heart and head, and get blood and lymph fluid flowing. Additionally, when done with correct alignment, Forearm Balance is an incredible shoulder opener. I love doing this posture with a block and a strap to assure that I’m in proper form. Try it with these props and notice how balanced and stable you can feel while upside down.
Place the short end of your mat flush with a wall. Put a block against the wall in its flattest, widest position. Now, take a strap and place it just above your elbows and tighten it so that it holds your elbows at the same width as your shoulders. Come onto your knees on the mat facing the wall. Place your hands on the floor with your index fingers pointing toward the wall against the left and right edges of the block and have your thumbs along the bottom edge. Place your elbows on the floor. Your forearms should be parallel. Tuck your toes under and lift your knees off the ground, just like in Down Dog position but on your forearms instead of your hands. Walk your feet slightly forward, shift your gaze toward your thumbs, and root down firmly from your elbows to your fingertips. Step one foot in slightly and kick the opposite leg up to the wall. Continue to make sure you’re firmly grounded in your arms while you’re in the transition to go up or down. Once you get up, flex both feet and try to reach your heels up to the ceiling; hug your legs together. Lift up through your lower belly and lengthen your tailbone toward your heels. Take a few deep breaths here and then slowly lower one foot down and then the other. Come on to your knees, take the strap off, and rest in Child’s Pose.
See also Feel Feather-Light: Forearm Balance
If you can’t do Wheel Pose …
See also Reinvent Your Wheel
Do Bridge Pose or Camel Pose (or both)
Wheel Pose is a wonderful backbend, but unfortunately it’s also an incredibly difficult position to get into. It took me more than 10 years of solid yoga practice before I could successfully do Wheel Pose with my arms straight. So, as someone with tight shoulders, I used Bridge, Camel, and Forearm Balance a lot to open up my back and create more flexibility in my spine and shoulders. I also used Bridge and Camel as my primary backbends after I had my son and injured my wrists carrying him. I love Camel and Bridge poses as substitutes for Wheel because they are tremendous shoulder openers that also strengthen your back. People often come to yoga because of tightness in the back due to sitting too often. Both Bridge and Wheel help to counter these effects. And unlike Wheel Pose, Bridge and Camel do not require your arms to be overhead, which is unavailable if you’ve got tight shoulders or wrist injuries.
To do Bridge Pose, come onto your mat and lie down. Bend your knees and place your feet close to your hips with your feet hip-distance apart and your feet pointing directly forward. Root your feet down and lift your hips up. Interlace your hands underneath your back and walk up onto your shoulders. Try not to pull your shoulders away from your ears; instead try to laterally rotate your shoulders so they are under you. Keep your neck straight; do not shift your head around when you’re in the pose. Make sure your knees don’t fall in our out. Hold for 5 breaths and then release your hands and bring your lower back down onto your mat. (Instructions for Camel Pose are on the next slide.)
To do Camel, come onto your knees at the front of your mat. If you’d like more cushion for your knees, roll the top edge of your mat back a few times and set your knees on the rolled-up part. Take your knees hip-distance apart and have your feet straight behind your knees. If you are a little stiff in your back, tuck your toes under. Come to an upright kneeling position and place your hands onto your lower back. Lift up through your lower belly and imagine that you just put on a really tight pair of pants. (Doing this will help to keep your stomach muscles engaged, which will support your lower back so you don’t sink or collapse there.)
Now lift your chest up, draw your shoulders back, and squeeze your elbows toward each other behind your back. Gently push your hips forward and start to arch back in your spine. Keep your gaze forward. If you feel like you need the support of your hands on your back, keep them there and take a few breaths. If it feels OK, reach back and see if you can touch your hands to your heels. Try not to twist at all when you’re coming in and out of the pose. Continue to press your hips forward and keep your heart lifting toward the ceiling. If you have no neck injuries, you can slowly let your head fall back. Hold for 5 breaths. To come out, press your hips forward, lift your chest, and then lift your head. If your toes are tucked, untuck them. Take a seat with your hips on your heels. Rest here for a few breaths.
If you can’t do Plank Pose …
Do Forearm Plank
In terms of poses that build strength, you can’t do much better than Forearm Plank (or Low Plank). You will get all the same benefits that you get from Plank Pose: core strength, leg strength, back strength, and arm strength. In addition, you’ll strengthen your chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor).
To do this pose, come onto your belly on your mat. Prop yourself up onto your elbows and interlace your hands. Tuck your bottom pinky finger, and make sure that your elbows are just shoulder distance and not any wider. Tuck your toes and press down evenly with your forearms and toes, lifting your body until it’s parallel to the floor. Keep your gaze at your thumbs, root your arms down fully, and imagine that you’re trying to squeeze your elbows toward each other. Root down through your toes and try to hug your toes and elbows toward each other. Lift your navel toward your spine and direct your tailbone toward your heels. Hold here for up to a minute. To release the pose, place your knees down first and then lower to your belly; rest here for a few breaths.
See also 7 Poses for Core Strength
If you can’t do Down Dog …
See also Dig Deeper in Down Dog
Do Dolphin Pose
Downward-Facing Dog is probably the posture that you do most often in a vinyasa-flow practice. It’s a wonderful pose that is a hamstring opener, shoulder opener, and core and back strengthener. Dolphin Pose also has those benefits without the added risk of straining your wrists. To practice Dolphin Pose, come onto your hands and knees. Place your elbows on the floor and interlace your hands. Check to make sure that your elbows are shoulder-distance apart, not wider. Tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor. Shift your gaze back to your feet and walk your feet forward slightly. If you have tight hamstrings, bend your knees. Whether your knees are bent or your legs are straight, try to lift your hips up and back. Feel the stretch in your shoulders. As you root your elbows down and forward, try to lift your belly in and up to create a greater length in the back of your body. Breathe 5 deep, even, slow inhales and exhales. To release, come onto your knees and shift your hips to your heels for Child’s Pose.