For a change, let me ask a practice question: In trikonasana (triangle pose), do you place your palm flat on a prop or the floor? Or do you use fingers only?
What about the other standing poses done with one hand on the ground? Ardha chandrasana (half-moon pose) and parsva konanasa (side-angle pose) come to mind.
Recently, in an Iyengar yoga class, we tried doing half-moon pose both ways. The teacher then asked which method we prefer? The overwhelming majority (95% of the class would be a reasonable guess) voted for palms flat on a prop.
I was among the few who preferred fingers only, whether on prop or floor. Here’s my rationale:
- Unless you’re a serious rock climber, your fingers cannot carry as much weight as your palms. So using only fingers keeps you from leaning too heavily on your hands.
- Your legs should carry most of your weight in standing poses.
- Some standing poses have no-hands variations, such as bound warrior (side-angle pose with hands clasped behind the back, one arm wound under the front leg). If too reliant on the hand for support, your legs will not learn to support the body on their own.
- Some like to use the palm for stronger leverage (press down, twist deeper, lengthen farther). Fine, but shouldn’t we eventually grow out of using the arms and hands so much? Shouldn’t the twist and length come from the core?
- My wrists already get enough pressure from chatturanga dandasana, handstand, vasistasana, and all other flexed-wrist poses. This gives them a break while strengthening my fingers.
Of course, textbook examples of trikonasana typically show palms flat on the floor. Perhaps, when one can reach the floor with ease and lightness, it is the ultimate expression of the pose.
NOTE: This “technical” discussion might seem nitpicky. But, to me, analyzing physical details reflects the inquiry that must occur in all of yoga (and all of life). If you never question a teacher’s instructions, you are not really practicing yoga, which requires self-inquiry.
Focusing on the body is also mental training; concentrating on your fingers or toes means you’re not daydreaming about other things. By training the mind to observe the body, you are also training the mind to observe the mind. Or so I hope.