While Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) is one of the best poses to target your entire body—it tones you all-over, strengthens your shoulders, arms, and upper back, and stimulates your cardiovascular system—it can also cause serious injury if you don’t do it safely. Depending on your body composition and muscles, the pose can be especially risky for your wrists.
Wheel Pose puts quite a bit of load on your wrists while they are in full extension (or hiked upward and pressed against the mat). We simply don’t use our wrists in that way, so most of us aren’t conditioned for it.
“We use our hands and wrists daily for things like typing, texting, driving, but we rarely find ourselves on our hands throughout the day,” Lyon explains.“Then all of a sudden you’re in a yoga class and using your hands as feet! You’re placing a lot of weight on the hands and bending your wrists in ways you don’t normally.”
Experts agree that the best way to avoid wrist injury in any sport is to build up strength gradually. This means that if you’ve been away from yoga for a while, it’s probably best to avoid Wheel Pose—even if it felt like no biggie for you before—until your wrists are stronger.
"Most wrists could use strengthening exercises to increase flexibility," says Lyon. "Exercises and warm-ups can help, whether the goal is to eventually aid in that 90-degree bend or to simply support the wrist joint where it’s at.”
It’s also extremely important to be mindful of weight distribution throughout your practice, Lyon says, since a lack of even weight distribution between your hands during the pose can cause injury.
Daphne Lyon’s Tips to Protect Your Wrists for Your Best (and Safest) Yoga Practice Ever
3 Wrist Exercises for Wheel Pose
1. Do the thumb flick
To strengthen your wrists, extend your arms out in front of you while kneeling or standing. Imagine you were flicking water off your thumb with your fingers (open and close the fingers quickly) for a count of 10. Later, work up to 20 counts to gradually build strength.
2. Mat stretches
Come to a kneeling position. Place your hands on the mat in front of you, fingers facing your knees. Thumbs turn out, pinkies turn in. At first you may just place your fingers on the mat, feeling a stretch in your palms, wrists, and forearms. As your flexibility increases, you may place your whole hand on the mat, adding weight as you lean forward from your kneeling position.
3. Actively practice even weight distribution
Throughout class, be mindful of the alignment of your hands to gradually strengthen your wrist. For instance, in the asana sequence practiced most often in vinyasa classes: Downward-Facing Dog, Plank, Chaturanga, Upward-Facing Dog, make it your mission to evenly distribute your weight from your wrists, to your palms, into your knuckles and fingertips.
How to Be Mindful of Wrists and Hands Daily
During the day: Flex those fingers
Take time throughout the day to give some love to your wrists using some of the strengthening and flexibility exercises. For example, after typing on the computer or texting on the phone, take a few minutes to stretch your fingers, hands and wrists to keep the circulation moving and your joints happy. You should also try to be mindful of how you use your hands and the positioning of your wrists throughout the day. I notice I grip the wheel sometimes when I drive. I try to relax my hands when driving since I am in the car often. This simple practice will create subtle habits that have long-term effects.
Whenever you have down time: Massage your hands
Massage your hands and wrists with an oil or lotion of your choosing. Or even get a manicure: having someone else massage your hands will relax tense muscles and bringing renewed circulation to the hand and wrist.
During your practice: Use an angle to come into Wheel Pose
Place two blocks against the ledge of a wall at an angle. You can also place a rolled up blanket under the angled blocks if the wall has no ledge. Lay on your back, head between the blocks. Plant your feet on the mat, knees bent, about hips distance away from one another. Place your hands on the angled blocks, fingers facing shoulders. Press down into your hands and feet and slowly with your breath come up into Wheel. The angled blocks lessen the amount of wrist extension. A wedge is another prop used to decrease the extension of your wrist in Wheel that most yoga studios carry.
OR, During your practice in class: Get an assist
Ask a yoga teacher for assistance in Wheel. Grab hold of the teacher's ankles as they stand with their feet on either side of your head. With knees bent and feet placed firmly on the ground, press down into your hands and feet to lift into Wheel.