11 Mistakes You’re Making in Yoga Class & How to Fix Them
Last Updated: Oct 26, 2016
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None of us are perfect. Especially in yoga class. The goal of practicing yoga is not to achieve perfection but to improve and learn. And during this journey it’s inevitable that a yogi will make mistakes, which can be a good thing if he learns valuable lessons from them. Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or just beginning to explore yoga, do your best to avoid the following 11 common mistakes so you can learn from others and strengthen your own practice.
HOLDING YOUR BREATH
The greatest mistake you can make in yoga class is, unfortunately, also the most common: not breathing. It may be challenging to focus on each and every inhalation and exhalation while you’re wobbling in Tree pose, finding strength in your Chaturanga or trying to readjust your hips in Warrior I, but that’s normal. Most practitioners struggle to focus on alignment and breath at the same time, but it’s important to maintain steady breathing during every asana. Holding your breath defeats the purpose of yoga and prevents you from receiving its greatest physical, mental and spiritual benefits.
Types of Yoga Breathing
RUSHING IN AND OUT OF POSES
Whether you think you’re maximizing your caloric burn, avoiding stillness or racing against the yogi to your left, many students feel the need to rush through each asana. But yoga can’t and shouldn’t be rushed. To optimize your strength and balance, patience and staying with the poses is key. Yoga teacher Sean Phelps says that taking time in each pose helps sharpen your focus on and off the mat. “To be in a posture with the breath is to peel back layers,” he says. “Listening to the voice inside telling you everything, but to stay focused on the task at hand. Here, at this point, is where the yoga takes place.”
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NOT LISTENING TO YOUR TEACHER
Understand that teachers see and know more than you. It’s in every yogi’s best interest to come to class with a beginner’s mindset. Of course, it’s perfectly fine to listen to your body and rest in Child’s pose when you need to. But there are certain instructions teachers provide in order to help you avoid injury or prepare you for advanced postures in their sequence. From simple stretches to more challenging poses, instructors usually set up a sequence to prepare you for a peak pose. If you think you may be deepening a stretch or you are determined to nail that inversion, make sure that you don’t dismiss the teacher’s guidance.
WEARING LOOSE-FITTING CLOTHING
Loose running shorts are great for activities like, well, running! But when it comes to yoga, it’s best to wear tighter-fitting clothing to avoid a wardrobe malfunction. You want to feel confident when you have one leg in the air during Downward Dog. Plus, the yogi to your right will appreciate you not letting it all hang out. Yoga pants are made for the practice. And, guys, if you don’t feel quite yourself in yoga pants, try wearing tighter shorts under your looser shorts to keep you covered when you’re in inversions. You want to be focused on your breath and body, not your britches.
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EATING TOO MUCH BEFOREHAND
Generally, you should avoid eating a large meal two hours before class in order to maximize blood flow to your muscles, organs and glands -- otherwise your body will be focused on digesting. Eating too close to practice makes twists, bends, inversions and any compression of the torso more challenging. And it can be counterproductive for those trying to lose or maintain weight because they’ll be unable to tap into the energy stores and expend calories from fat stores. It also requires the body to focus on burning off blood sugar calories instead of accessing the body’s fat stores.
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DRINKING TOO MUCH WATER
Some of the more traditional yogis avoid bringing their water bottles into class at all. They believe that the sequencing is designed to warm the body from the inside out and that cooling it down with water defeats its internal heat. It’s also possible that a yogi can feel overly full or regurgitate the water during twisting, bending and inverted poses. This is why it’s that much more important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you’re adequately hydrated before class, it’s unlikely you’ll become dehydrated in 60 to 90 minutes -- even if you’re sweating profusely. But if you insist on keeping your water bottle right by your mat, make sure it’s at room temperature. Don’t guzzle any cold water; it can work against your nervous system.
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COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Yoga is not a competition, and no two yogis are alike. The beauty of yoga is that each yogi’s journey is completely different. Everyone has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. And every day your body will feel different: Some days you may feel stronger or more flexible than others. When you compare your practice to that of others, you’re assuming you know where they are in their journey. Allowing your ego to take over your practice will only halt your progression. Learn not only how to get into a pose, but also how to accept where you’re at right now and find joy in it.
LOCKING YOUR KNEES AND ELBOWS
When you lock your knees, elbows or any joints, you use fewer muscles. And it can also cause your joints to hyperextend. This can damage your ligaments, lead to severe pain and injury and create poor alignment in the body. In order to avoid all of this, engage the muscles around the joint and slightly bend the elbow and/or knee.
PUTTING TOO MUCH WEIGHT IN YOUR WRISTS
Keep your injury-prone wrists safe! It’s crucial to avoid putting weight on the wrists in order to avoid pain or injury. Take note, since you may be supporting your body weight with your hands for a lot of the class. Make sure you’re pressing firmly down through your fingertips, knuckles and palm, leaving little to no weight in your wrists. It’s also important to engage your core in order to protect your wrists. When your core is activated, you stabilize your rotator cuff muscles and shoulders, which will take the weight off the wrists.
NOT PROPERLY ENGAGING YOUR CORE
When a teacher instructs you to “engage your core” what do you do? Do you pull your navel in toward your spine? Squeeze your entire midsection? Engaging your core is more than bracing your six-pack muscles. If you’re only focused on that region, you’re not building core strength and may create lower back problems. The core is deeper, and it includes engaging your “Bandhas.” Here’s how to do that: Lift your pelvic floor up (Mula Bandha). Draw your navel inward and upward (Uddiyana Bandha). Do these steps every pose, whether your teacher reminds you to “engage your core” or not.
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You may think lying there after an intense workout is a waste of time, or you may think it’s too easy. But Savasana -- aka Corpse pose -- is actually the most vital part of the practice and can be the most challenging because its mastery is internal. It’s the part of your practice in which all of your physical, mental and spiritual efforts come together to help you discover more of yourself. The old Hatha Yoga Pradipika yogi text states that Savasana “removes fatigue caused by the other asanas and induces calmness.” The five, 10 or sometimes 30 minutes of lying on your back in a corpse position has tremendous benefits to not only relieve tension and stress, but also to help the yogi reach enlightenment.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you regularly go to yoga class? Are you guilty of making any of these mistakes? Or have you seen others in your class make any of them? What other mistakes do you see yogis making in class? Let us know in the comments below!
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