If you’ve been to class with me, you’ve probably heard me ranting about pressing your whole hand into the ground. “Make a commitment to the ground!” I say, like a mad yoga teacher who can’t learn a new cue. “Press down with your WHOLE HAND!”
Looking around a yoga class (once you know what to look for), it’s easy to spot. As people move through Surya Namaskar A, stepping back, they have their thumbs like little kickstands pointing backward (this gives me agita). Once they’re down, they rearrange their hand- but now they’ve got a little pocket of air under place between the thumb and first finger.
Ideally (although it doesn’t work for everyone), it’s great if you can move directly from Uttanasana with your hands flat on the ground as though doing down dog, even if your knees are bent. Your hand presses firmly and evenly into the ground and stays in place as you move through your vinyasa.
I’m a classic case of hand-commitment-issues myself. Like most (of my) yoga injuries, it wasn’t a big deal for a long time, and it went through phases. Initially, I was doing what many beginners do: rolling onto the outer edges of my hands in my down dog. After developing soreness in my wrists, pinkies, and a decent Ganglian cyst, I finally got the hang of pressing evenly into the hand- which means more pressure with the base of your thumb and first finger than you might naturally want to do. This created a healthier pattern throughout my whole upper body, engaging my triceps more and allowing for more freedom in my upper chest and trapezius. My pain issues resolved themselves, and the cyst is gone (yay!)- but then, more recently, I discovered a new source of pain in my hands- soreness around my thumbs and in the webbing between my thumb and my hand.
One of the most effective lessons I ever received was from my teacher Margarida, who said to me: “When you feel pain in your practice, explore the pain. What is causing it? Does it hurt more or less if you change something this way or that way?” While it might seem like common sense, it’s so much easier for most of us to hammer on through the pain, not wanting to spend time with it. As yogis, we have the opportunity to really curate our own physiological museum. And when we don’t- well, injury leads to more injury, at least in my experience.
I began to explore my practice slowly, looking for the source of discomfort. I soon found it in my jump-throughs (the transition from downward-facing dog to Dandasana that is done many, many times, at least a bazillion times in the Primary Series of Ashtanga yoga). Every time I was floating forward was lifting my thumbs just a tiny bit, rolling back onto the outer edges of my hand. I realized that I must be trying to give my body more room (side to side) to come forward between my hands- I jump through with crossed legs, and it takes some space. Maybe I was also creating a little more height for myself (like so many of us, I feel my arms are just way too short!).
I’m fascinated by our bodies’ ability to compensate for tightness or weakness by using inappropriate muscles or joints as a “work-around.” In this case, I was relying on the tiny muscles and bones of my hands rather than engaging my bandhas and drawing my legs in more tightly.
So I’ve started from scratch with my jump-through. The first time I attempted to jump through without that little thumb lift, I kicked myself in the thumb and almost ripped my nail off. Minutes later, in the bathroom, trimming my nails and waiting for the throbbing to subside, I thought, This must be a really embedded habit! I totally expected my thumb NOT to be there.
Check it out, though: I did it. Here I am just a week later. No thumb kick-stands here:
Have you experienced anything similar? Leave a comment below and let me know! I’d love to hear from you.