Wrist Exercises, Alexander Technique and Yoga

I often hear other Yoga teachers asking questions about the right exercise for a particular condition. This is a question that I posted an answer to in a Yoga Facebook group which illustrates Alexander Technique thinking about those types of questions.

Question: I have a question about supporting wrists. One of my regular students runs a cafe and from years working in hospitality has over extended her wrists in both directions. I know poses to stretch wrists and help with and prevent arthritis but not so many to provide stability and strength and help with that pattern of over stretching. ..she’s able to do poses like cat, downward dog and plank. .. it would be great to find some regular practices she can to do to help.

Note to non yoga people: cat, downward dog and plank all involve being on all fours and supporting part of your body weight with your hands.

I’ve worked with people with wrist problems, usually over use injuries caused by too long at the computer and then getting over enthusiastic about gym/yoga stuff.

Here’s my thinking on this: If your student is able to do cat, downward dog and plank then she might not have a wrist problem. She has a what FM Alexander called a use problem. That is, she’s getting herself into a panic in the complex dynamic of her life. From that place she is putting force and effort through those joints in a way that isn’t supported by her body’s natural design.

You could give her exercises and poses from now until forever and they will probably be of limited use. She needs to get to the heart of why she is mis-using her wrists in the first place.

Alexander Technique can help because there’s a clear pedagogical goal of giving students the tools they need to investigate the root causes of their problems. Then Yoga poses could be a way of illustrating these tools. This type of thinking is 180 degrees away from the normal exercise mentality which pervades many movement practices. It’s the idea that if only you know the right exercise, your problems will be fixed. Instead, if we are learning the fundamental principles underlying all movement then we’ll be able to flexibly apply what we know to any situation.

Back to the wrists. In my experience, people who have wrist problems almost always tighten and brace in other parts of their arm structure. They believe that their arms start at the glenohumeral joint and completely ignore the deep connections their arms have to all parts of our torso.

It’s like their arm is just the sleeve of a t-shirt and has no connections to the rest of the t-shirt.

When they do this, there is no dynamic self adjusting movement within the collar bones and shoulder blades or clear relationship between head, tail, arms and the spine. Instead, the collar bones and shoulder blades are usually braced and frozen down on the ribs. They have an inherent internal model of stability which involves freezing and bracing rather than stability being the result of tuning into our bodies’ natural self adjusting micro movements.

I also usually check their bodies’ keystone relationships. Are they able to centre their pelvis? Are they able to move their heads easily at the top of their spine? If these are out, then they can have domino effect on the periphery.

Being curious and interested in why she thinks she needs to over extend her wrists in both directions while she’s at work will be a good start. It could be that she’s over extending her wrists because she’s shut down her natural range of movement else where in her arm structure or spine. Once you have a feel for that, there’s a good chance that the exercise she needs will present itself.

A good resource for these types of thinking is Liz Kock’s Core Awareness, Donna’s books and Bruce Fertman Teaching by Hand, Learning by heart.

Another interesting way to look at wrists is here:

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© Kevin Saunders, Yogaground 2018

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