Before we get started, how about this wise and insightful piece by Kino MacGregor on Healing Injuries with Yoga.
aka “low push up” or “low plank”
How many chaturangas in a vinyasa class?
Elbow pain. Wrist pain. Low back pain. Normal? Bad? I tell my students there is a distinct difference in being in pain, and feeling discomfort. Never should you feel pain in a pose; pain is your body’s way of yelling at you “back off/modify/dilute/this one is not for me.” Positive growth and change usually doesn’t occur without some discomfort. True pain is a whole other kettle of fish, and I never seek for my students to face it. The trouble is, there’s a fine line between the two. And most of us start going to yoga after habitually crossing that line over-and-over again without even knowing it. And then those habits start to appear in the practice we came to in hopes of soothing ourselves. After a while, the pain creeps in.
You live in your body, and deserve to feel good in it!
But, let’s say you are already feeling elbow pain now. (Since I can’t see you, talk to your yoga teacher after class, if you have one, as he or she may have some helpful tips after seeing you practice). Pain sucks.
R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate above the heart)
If you are back on the mat:
Try modifying any vinyasa to go from knees-chest-chin to a low cobra (rather than chaturanga to urdva). Regular cobra can be a nice modification from a knees-chest-chin or low-plank too. In regular cobra, knees can be on or off the mat, but hips don’t touch the ground. The key in cobra is to keep the elbows bent, whether it’s a generous bend, or just a micro-bend. Think softness rather than strain and tension, surrender over force.
Are you doing jump-backs from half-way lifts? Lots of people will jump straight back into high-plank (with the arms straight), which can totally blow out your elbows. Especially after repeating week after week, year after year. It might not hurt now, or the first few hundred times, but it will later.
I recommend skipping any jump-backs (and arm balances) until the pain subsides. But if/when you feel good to go for it, jump straight back into chaturanga (with the elbows bent as they point straight back and hug the side ribs) and your shoulders dip no lower than your elbows.
If you’re not jumping back, but going from high to low:
In high plank: hug the arm bones towards one another. Melt the heart a bit between the shoulder blades. Keep engaged in the core as your belly button pulls back towards your spine, your tailbone tucks towards your heels, and your transverse abdominals wrap around your side body like a tight hug. Remember to breathe! Then bring the heart slightly forward of the hands before or as you lower to keep nice right angles in your joints.
Make sure you are pressing firmly into the hands
and the backs of your fingers and knuckles as they spread out from one another, fanning out like the legs of a starfish. Keeping that weight spread in your hands means you put energy into the ground below and reciprocally can get it back, rather than stopping it at an over-stressed wrist joint. Eyes of your elbows face forward, not in to one another. Hands should be as wide (or possibly wider for some folks) as your shoulders. Plug the shoulders on the back so your scapula squeeze together on the back. Be mindful not to loose this engagement with the hands pressing and the shoulders pulling away from the ears when you move to upward-facing dog or cobra. Keep the legs strong too! If your hips are off the mat (full up-dog or regular cobra), press the toes and the tops of your feet into the mat so firmly into the mat your quads engage and your kneecaps lift off the earth.