Practice Point: The Hands #1

This information is partly derived from classes taught by Donald Moyer at the Yoga Room in Berkeley, CA, in January of 2006.

The Beginner's Hand

In the beginning, there is often very little awareness in the hand or palm. When the student comes into a pose such as Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog), the fingers and palms are not particularly active and the weight falls into the wrist and outer hand, with knock-on effects higher up in the shoulder and chest. In the long run, this can be problematic for the wrist, as the weight of the body just sits there in the joint with no support to rebounce it back up into the core.

So the first instruction given is usually:

"Spread the fingers and the thumb."

This will usually have the effect of moving the metacarpals, the bones of the palm, away from each other. Further refinement might be:

"Roll weight into the index finger and thumb"
"Spread the webbing between the index finger and thumb and ground down through there."

These will help to rebounce the weight up and to activate the inner arm. If the weight is still too much in the wrists you might hear:

"Roll the weight towards the fingertips."

This can help get a little more lift in the wrist and forearm.

Going Deeper

Once intelligence has awakened in the palm and wrist, a different approach needs to be taken. Over-spreading the fingers will actually sap the strength of the palm. Optimally, we want to create a balance between all the different parts of the hand so that all the parts are working the same amount. This will create harmony in the nervous system of the hand. You can tell when you have achieved this, as the quality of the skin in the fingers and palms changes dramatically, becoming soft and receptive.

The first step towards this is to reign those fingers in. The thumb mounds can still spread to broaden the webbing, but the fingers need to be lined up with the metacarpals. (Take the time to feel around the back of the hand to make sure your are, in fact lining up finger with metacarpal and not a muscle or a ligament.)

Then look at hour hands. Are the fingers longer than the palm, or the palm longer than the fingers? If the fingers are longer, it is likely that they are going to be stronger, and vice versa, so you will need to charge up the weaker element. When you lengthen your fingers, to they curl up? If they do, then your knuckles are over-working and need to soften.

Strong Hands, Open Shoulders

Once you have the fingers lined up properly, attempt these actions to activate the hands and observe the effects in the shoulders and back. In poses with both hands on the floor, set yourself up so that the index fingers and metacarpals are parallel to each other (the hand slightly turned out).

1) Lengthen the index finger and little finger.

2) Roll the metacarpals in.

3) As you roll the outer metacarpal in, roll the weight into the inner hand.

4) Keeping the index finger long, pull the inner metacarpal back and the outer metacarpal forward.

These actions provide an incredible amount of strength to the hand that can transform poses such as Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand). They can also provide organization that can open up the shoulder girdle and chest in many other poses.

Applying the Actions

Think of these actions in the following poses:

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Prasarita Padottanasana 1 (Widespread Feet Pose)
Padahastasana (Hands Under Feet Pose)
Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)
Vashisthasana (Vashistha's Pose)
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana (Upward Facing Fog Pose)
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)
Pincha Mayurasana (Peacock Feather Pose or Forearm Balance)
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)
Salamba Shirshasana (Head Stand)
Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
Janu Shirshasana (Head of the Knee Pose) - with hands on blocks
Triang Mukhaikapada Pashchimottanasana (Three Limbs Facing Intense West Stretch Pose) - with hands on blocks
Ardha Baddha Padma Pashchimottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Intense West Stretch Pose) - with hands on blocks
Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose) - with hands on blocks