I’ve noticed a similar string of questions from students lately. Perhaps you’ve had some of these questions as a student or maybe you’ve been asked some of these as a teacher. One of the things that’s important to keep in mind is that answering questions about yoga practice is a very individualized thing and the answers will vary depending on who you ask and their experience.
Also, there are a great number of factors to consider that are individualized to the person experiencing the problem. There are not “finite” answers but there are definitely “generally acceptable” answers to questions. And, always remember, as a teacher, you’re providing general guidance but may want to suggest that the student seek medical attention for anything that is painful and consistently happening in the body.
Here are 4 common questions:
How come my hands and wrists hurt in Downward Facing Dog?
Downward Dog is an inversion, which means that the head is lower than the heart and the hands are on the floor. In this position, the weight of the body is dropping into the hands. The challenge is to direct a significant portion of your body weight back into your legs. How do you do this? By leveraging the floor to push the hips up. This means that in many cases, you will have to bend your knees to get the necessary upward lift of the tailbone (coccyx) and sitting bones (ischial tuberosities). While some of the weight is definitely in the hands, more weight is pushing up and back.
If you’re looking for a way to feel this in the body, ask a teacher to assist you in the pose from behind. They will place their hands in your hip hinge (the place on both legs where the thigh meet the torso at the top of the legs) and pull up and back. This will begin to lift you out of your hands. You want begin to develop this sensation on your own. As with all things in yoga, it happens over time with consistent practice.
How come the backs of my knees hurt in Triangle?
In poses where the legs are in full extension, such as a forward fold, Triangle or the standing leg in Half Moon, for instance, there exists the possibility of hyperextension. “Hyper,” meaning “too much,” refers to “too much” extension of the legs. When you extend your legs “too much” in a pose, they can possibly, depending on the condition of your joints, go “beyond straight” into hyperextension. This can result in pain or strain in the back of the legs. While for some people, this position feels natural (especially if you’re double jointed) it can put a strain on the back of the knees. A corrective move is to slightly bend the knees to create less of the sensation of sitting in the joint and more of a muscular sensation by activating the quadriceps (the muscles of the thighs).
How come it’s hard for me to push up into Wheel Pose?
Wheel Pose is a backbend and requires three major things: upper body strength, flexibility in the shoulders and flexibility in the hips. I just did a video on Wheel Pose and you can check it out on my website, www.barebonesyoga.com. In order to come into Wheel, one thing to notice is the ease with which you can move into low push-up from high push-up. While this isn’t all that’s necessary to move into Wheel, the strength you use for that movement is indeed used when you flip over onto your back and try to push off the mat into Wheel.
You would also want to start your practice with a number of movements to open the hips and shoulders. Sun Salutations, lunges, interlacing the fingers behind the back and folding forward (or using a strap) are all helpful poses to do in preparation.
Building the strength and flexibility to come in Wheel Pose is a gradual process and if it is hard for you, it will take weeks or longer of consistent practice to come up into the pose. Sometimes, however, your body is stronger than you think and you will come up into the pose sooner than you thought possible. As with all poses, try not to get too attached to the pose itself but work evenly throughout the whole practice to get the maximum benefits.
How come the outsides of my thighs hurt when I do Half Moon?
There is a thick band of fascia on the outer part of the thigh called the Iliotibial Band, or IT Band, as it’s commonly referred. This thick band of connective tissue runs from the outside of the pelvis, over the hip and knee and ends just below the knee. The IT band functions to abduct the thigh, or draw it away from the center of the body to the side (laterally). When coming into a pose like Half Moon, the leg in the air is abducted and laterally rotating. This can strain an already aggravated IT band.
Activities like running, cycling, rowing and sports or training with lots of lateral movements can create IT Band Syndrome so if you’re feeling this in yoga class, take a look at what other activities you’re doing as well. The main approach while in a yoga pose and feeling pain is to decrease the intensity of the pose or completely avoid it. IT Band syndrome also responds well to rest, ice and elevation.
There are many other things you may be hearing from your students or experiencing in your practice, so with all things, always seek out a qualified teacher as a starting point. Listen to your body. Rest as you need to rest while practicing and consider taking a day off from training if you’re getting worse. Also, I find that many of my students don’t always connect all the dots in their life to what they are experiencing on the mat. As you start to feel uncomfortable sensations in the body while practicing yoga, discuss with the teacher the other things you’re doing for exercise and look for the common threads. Adjustments may be needed in both places in order for relief to be found.