If you have ever taken one of my yoga classes, you’ll know I am a big anatomy nerd. I’m still a novice in the scheme of things, but I loved diving in deeper in my 300-hour training last year. I’ve been going through the anatomy lectures from my teacher Noah, again. If you’re an anatomy nerd too, or want to learn more, I can’t recommend his online courses enough. You can learn more about Anatomy 101 and his other offerings here.
As I’ve been watching them and following along with a workbook from training, I take a little something new with me each time. Last week I reviewed the elbow and was reminded how complex the arm is, but also how beautifully it’s designed. There are very specific actions we can create to support the structure, or we can fall into misalignments and feel aches and pains. This is why I instruct proper hand placement the first time we put weight on our hands in every class I teach. Every. Single. One.
While I was getting my anatomy refresher, I reflected back on my time as a student, before any of my trainings. I understood hand alignment was important, but I had no clue why. I just did as I was told. But this year, on this blog and my channel, I want to focus on making yoga accessible, and understandable, to all. So, I decided I’m going to embrace my love for anatomy and talk about it more, in hopes that you, as students and perhaps fellow teachers, can learn something new and begin to grasp complex, but interesting, structures within your own body. Anatomy is just another layer in which you can learn a lot about yourself. Let me tell you, the human body is insanely cool.
Let’s jump in today with a brief overview of how to place your hands on your yoga mat, and the reasoning behind 2 of the major points.
Here’s a basic script of how I instruct hand placement in table top position, or all fours:
- Place your hands on your mat, outer shoulder distance apart.
- Align your wrists under your shoulders.
- Spread out through your fingers, with your index finger pointing straight ahead.
- Root down through the pads of your fingers, under your finger nails.
- Root through the inner edge of your hand. Press down your index finger knuckle, where the base of your finger meets your palm.
I could go on for a lot longer if I had an infinite amount of time, but that is the basis.
We would be here all day if I broke down each point, so I’m going to focus primarily on points 4 and 5, which relate to each other. Why do we need to shift the weight in our hands forward, and to the inner edge?
First, we don’t want to put a lot of weight on the wrist. There are many structural things happening in the wrist, including bones and nerves. Ever heard of carpal tunnel syndrome? Taken directly from the Mayo Clinic’s website, “carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve.” When we collapse into the wrist, we are putting direct pressure there. Therefore, we want to try to shift the weight from the wrist forward into the rest of the hand, creating a slight lift of the middle of the wrist.
Try this – bring your palms to touch. Push the heels of your hands together, point your fingers down, and then look at your wrists. Everything is flush. Then push your fingertips together and the index finger knuckle that meets your palm, while keeping the heels of your hands lightly touching. When you point your fingers down now, you should see a little diamond shape in the middle of your wrist. We want to keep that space when we bear weight on our hands, ergo, shifting the weight forward in the hands. Yes!
Now let’s look at the index finger knuckle/rooting through the inner edge of the hand cue. We have to move up the arm a bit for this one by looking at the radius and the ulna bones. I could really geek out on you here, but I’ll keep it simple. The ulna bone, the one on your pinky finger side, is larger at the top (the proximal end, at the elbow), and smaller at the bottom (the distal end, at the wrist). The radius bone, the one on your thumb side, is the opposite – smaller proximally, bigger distally.
So then drop back down to the wrist. The ulna bone, on the outer edge of your hand, is smaller than the radius bone, on the inner edge of your hand. The ulna is only suppose to bear about 20% of your weight at that point. It’s smaller than the radius, so that makes sense, right? So why would we want to put a lot of weight on the outer edge of our hand? We don’t, however, unfortunately, that is naturally where a lot of the weight wants to go. To combat that, we have to shift our weight to the inner edge of our hand, allowing the force to travel up our arm on the radius side. Easiest way to do that? Root down through that index finger knuckle. It wants to pop up, especially in Down Dog, Plank, and Chaturanga Dandasana, so please protect your wrists and get that knuckle down!
I could really confuse you and keep going up the arm into the elbow, but I’ll stop here for now. If you have questions, let me know! I will happily talk about anatomy anytime, anywhere. Let me help you understand.
If you liked this, I would love to hear any questions you have about this topic, or other structures in the body/yoga cues that have phased you. And don’t forget to root down through that index finger knuckle!