Yoga Tip: Hands & Fingers Position in Downdog

The day after I had my biking accident and sprained my wrists, I taught a yoga class, focusing on Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog. I would not have been able to do this, had I not learned how to position my hands and fingers properly.

I went through an aggressive but naiive phase when I did too much Vinyasa and Power Yoga. Without knowing how to do all the poses safely, with all those chaturangas, it was inevitable that I developed pain in my hands and wrists.

I’ve now learned what went wrong, and how to make it right. Here are a few things you can try out in your Downdog to see if your body likes it.

Just Say No to Bone on Bone

Yes, it sounds like something you’d find at your local Adult Movie store, but the kind of bone on bone I’m talking about is nothing to giggle at. Imagine two planks of wood running perpendicular to each other at the corner, and there’s constant force shearing them. In a way, this is what happens when we go into Downdog with our body weight dumping on the wrist.

Bones of the hand

Bones of the hand

Try this, bring one hand towards you and then press out through the heel of your palm. As this picture shows, bones of the forearm: the Ulna and Radius would be coming down near perpendicular to the carpal bones.

Distribute Evenly

Think of your body weight coming down on your hands as cream cheese being spread on a piece of bagel. You want to spread it evenly. To do this, there are a couple of strategies that I use. Please note that these are *options* for you to experiment and try out. What you end up doing may be one technique, a combination, or perhaps even none at all.

Have a Ball (or Two)

Put your hands flat on the floor, fingers spread wide. Without lifting anything up, imagine that you have a tennis ball under each hand. With all parts of your hands still in contact with the floor, press down on two points: where your thumb and pinkie fingers meet your palm. You’ll notice that the points where the other three fingers meet the palm want to press down too.

My teacher calls this Spiderman Hand, and I love to visualize my fingers shooting out strings, casting a spider web.

Bring on the High Heels

If you play football or ultimate frisbee, you know that staying light on your feet helps you change direction and react faster. In Downdog, while you’re not chasing or being chased, you *are* trying to stay light on your wrists, and the tactic is the same: lift your heels. In this case, lift the heel of your palms.

Spread your hands out in front of you on a flat surface, fingers wide. Now, with your whole hands still in contact with the surface, slowly lift the heel of your palms up. Notice the weight transfering to the rest of your hands.

We call this Tiger Palm. I often think of a tiger or even a cat getting ready to make a high leap.

Thumbs Up

In this technique, spread your fingers wide as before, but this time, relax all of your hands, except for the thumbs. When at rest, you’ll notice that the finger nails of the thumbs face each other. Press down on the thumbs and *imagine* as if the finger nails are slowing facing the ceiling.

Effectively, you are dragging, or pretending to drag the thumbs towards the rest of the fingers of the same hand. I don’t have a clever name for this, so a “Caption This” contest might be forthcoming 🙂

These are the hands and fingers techniques that have worked for me in Downdog for gaining traction and avoid dumping and sinking my weight in my wrists. If you know of other strategies, please let me know!

Image courtesy of eOrthoPod