One of the most common complaints among people new to yoga is wrist pain. In yoga, where the majority of the practice involves placing some weight on your hands, wrist pain can be debilitating. But, there are ways to manage and mitigate wrist pain, the most important of which is learning how to use hasta bandha correctly.
What are bandhas?
Bandha is a sanskrit word that is usually translated as “lock.” A bandha then, is a muscular and energetic “lock” (engagement) in the body that yoga practitioners use to support and intensify their practice. There are 3 primary bandhas of the body: throat (jalandhara), stomach (uddiyana), and pelvic (mula), as well as 2 secondary bandhas: hand (hasta) and foot (pada). As you advance in your yoga practice, it is important to learn how to utilize all of these “locks” effectively. For this sake of this blog post however, we will just be dealing with hasta bandha or hand lock.
Hasta Bandha: The Hand Lock
Learning to use hasta bandha will significantly increase your comfort and ease when bearing weight on your palms. It will also help strengthen your forearms, which will make more advanced poses, like arm balances, easier. For beginners, hasta bandha is most easily practiced in the poses downward facing dog and table top. When you feel you’ve become comfortable engaging hasta bandha in those poses, move on to more intense weight-bearing poses like plank and chaturanga.
How to do hasta bandha:
- Place both hands on your mat with your fingers spread apart. You want your fingers to be as wide apart as is comfortable to help provide the largest possible base of support.
- Start to bring some weight into your hands. As you increase the weight in your hands, press every knuckle of your fingers into the floor.
- Notice where you feel the most pressure. The base of your thumb and pointer finger should carry the most weight. Slightly internally rotate your forearm to help bring your weight into this area of your hand.
- Lightly grip the floor with your fingertips while still keeping all of your knuckles pressing into the floor. If you are new to hasta bandha, you may feel your forearms become fatigued from this action.
- Notice where you feel no pressure. The center of your palm should be lifting up and have no weight on it. You can help create this action by pressing the outer edges of your palm into the floor, almost like a suction cup.
- Hold here to develop strength and comfort in this hand lock.
The mechanics of hasta bandha are quite easy, but remembering to use it consistently throughout your practice takes vigilance and dedication. As you move through your physical practice, try to continually bring your attention back to your hands to make sure you are engaging hasta bandha. Over time, using this bandha will become reflexive and will even feel natural!
My forearms are sore: If you are using hasta bandha correctly, it is normal for your forearms to feel a little sore after physical practice. The motion of lightly gripping the floor with your fingertips engages muscles that run along your forearm, which are not normally used in day-to-day activities. As you progress in your practice and become stronger, the forearm soreness should dissipate. If it continues, seek out an experienced yoga teacher for advice–there may be factors other than hasta bandha at play.
I have carpal tunnel syndrome: While participating in an activity that involves placing weight on your wrists when you have carpal tunnel syndrome may seem like a bad idea, it can actually help alleviate some of the soreness. Yoga requires flexibility in the wrists, and stretching your wrists can help alleviate mild to moderate cases of carpal tunnel syndrome. Hasta bandha specifically can help build strength in your forearms which can also alleviate some of the loss of grip associated with carpal tunnel. If you have a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome, have had wrist surgery, or have any other wrist injury, please consult a doctor before trying to practice yoga.
My wrists still hurt: If your wrists still hurt and you are practicing hasta bandha correctly, you’ll need to more closely examine your yoga practice. If your wrists only hurt in the beginning of your yoga practice, it is likely that you need to stretch and warm-up your wrists more before practicing. If your wrists hurt throughout or at the end of your practice, it is likely that you are, at some point, losing hasta bandha and “dumping” weight into your wrists. Try practicing some poses supporting yourself on your fingertips or fists. Yes, it takes more strength, and can be uncomfortable at first, but it can sometimes be the best remedy for persistent wrist pain because it teaches you how to lift out of your hands. Balancing on your fingertips or fists will also help increase your forearm and hand strength so that you can maintain hasta bandha correctly throughout your practice.
How has using hasta bandha changed your practice? Do you have any other tips for practicing hasta bandha or treating yoga-related wrist pain? Let me know in the comments!