Recently I attended a marvelous yoga workshop with renowned teacher Michael Stone. A devoted Ashtanga student, Michael has begun to incorporate “less traditional” physical work into his on-the-mat teaching and practice after an injury took him by surprise. One of the concepts that he taught struck me so strongly, and it is what I’d like to share with you this month. It was so simple—so, so simple—how had I never even thought of it before? That’s the beautiful thing about dawning realization, that gasp that comes in the “Oh! Of course!” Ideally we build strength around flexibility, and we make more spacious what isn’t so budge-able. These two actions together add up to a priceless and winning combination: mobility.
One of the things I see often in my role as a yoga teacher is that very common drop-to-your-knees-and-massage-your-wrists move that shouts out, “Help, I am in pain!” Although building strength and mobility up the chain from the wrists, through the shoulders and upper back especially, will help alleviate undue strain down to the palms, what about the actual wrists themselves? Well, it’s hard to call anything “just that spot” because of how intricately everything is interwoven in connectedness, but strengthening your end range of motion will help your hands feel less burdened. According to Skyler Zarndt, a strength and conditioning coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, reporting on the work of Dr. Andreo Spina (who was Michael Stone’s teacher and a prominent figure in the new findings on optimal movement through functional mobility), our Central Nervous System “runs the show” on the ranges it will and won’t let you go to based upon where it feels safe, so including strengthening stimulation paired with stretching and range of motion work will help the CNS “get on board” with creating new pathways of possibility and, ultimately, reality. Hopefully this work might help replace the desperate need to drop to your knees and instead help you feel strong, stable, and supported!
While kneeling in table pose, spread your fingers apart and ground your palms firmly. With your shoulders stacked over your wrists, engage your core muscles, press down through your hands and activate your upper back. Keeping this kind of active engagement (not going soft and sleepy just because the hand leaves the floor), contract your right palm just off the floor, an inch or so, and feel the instant turn-on of the muscles up your hand and forearm that actually make this range of motion happen through contraction. This will simultaneously be actively lengthening the opposite side. Embrace the active work of this position, which is different than pushing our weight into our hands while they’re on the floor bearing our body weight. While being reasonable about it, shaking in the contraction is a normal response—a good one even, and a cool one too! That shaking is your brain literally talking to that area of your body and vice versa. It’s what we call “muscle memory,” and tells us that we are cultivating new neural pathways. Try to lift more from the front side of your hand and not just flex the fingertips up if your finger joints are more mobile than your wrist joint. Contract strongly and, when you feel your endurance waning, release and repeat on the other side or work up to a few sets on each side. In time you might “up” the challenge by working this action in Plank, but that is not necessary to receive the benefits. That progression would be more about deep core stability and asymmetrical balance skill, and it is just a greater challenge in general.