During my 15 years of teaching yoga, I have noticed some common mistakes that counter the benefits of yoga and can be downright dangerous. These problem-habits, such as forgetting to breathe, can sometimes reflect and reinforce how we live our daily life. If we rush through life, forgetting to take time to breathe, we will likely do the same in our yoga practice.
To cultivate a healthier, safer and more pleasant practice — both on and off the mat — avoid these 5 common mistakes:
1. Focusing too much on the perfect pose.
Just because you cannot get into the full expression of the pose, or practice the pose like your neighbor or teacher does, doesn’t mean that the steps you take to approach the full expression aren’t worth it! There is no such thing as the perfect pose. There is, however, a perfect pose for you. Every pose can be broken down, so if you have difficulty, ask the teacher for a variation.
Pay attention to the shape and actions of the pose: is it a backbend, forward bend? Where are the arms in relation to the shoulder and the legs in relation to the hips? Copy those basics elements and do something similar that your body can handle and that feels good. The point of yoga is to enjoy the stretch, wherever and whenever you feel it, making your body a bit more flexible over time.
2. Forgetting to breathe.
Awareness of the breath keeps you safe. Observe how your breath reacts to your movements. If your breathing strains, you are pushing yourself too far. As long as you can practice the poses with a natural easy breath, you are probably not overexerting yourself.
Focusing on the breath in yoga has many benefits. It keeps the mind alert and present, since the breath is always happening in the present. When breath and movement synchronize, the magic in yoga begins. The mind becomes quiet and we experience peace.
3. Pushing yourself too hard, too quickly.
It is natural to want to progress when you start practicing yoga. So when you find a boundary, by all means gently lean into it, but don’t push it… When you push your body a little too much, you can scare it and your body will react by protecting itself and that boundary. If you push a boundary too hard, your body may tighten up more and as a result, that boundary is a bit further out of reach the next time. You are likely to become less flexible and more tight. This is of course unpleasant.
Another possible consequence of pushing too hard is injury. If you push on a regular basis, after a few years an injury can arise and it won’t be easy to heal.
When you master the art of playing your edge, your body will quite happily open up more. If you give your body time and ask kindly, it will respond!
4. Skipping the warm up.
Warming up means introducing the body gently to what you want from it. You can warm up in different ways; one way is to start with easy warm up exercises, bringing heat to the body through increased circulation. Organize your practice by doing the more simple poses first and slowly building to the more advanced poses; this reduces the chance of over stretching because the body is prepared.
5. Skipping the cool down or relaxation.
In the cool down portion of a class you take the opportunity to balance what you have done. This is done through counter poses, softening what you have tried to strengthen, bringing stability back to an area you have loosened, etc.
This is the portion of the class where you assimilate the benefits. When you run back to your normal day after a strong practice your nervous system is most likely over stimulated and you may end up feeling scattered and nervous. When you give yourself time to relax, at least 6 minutes for every hour of practice, your nervous system gets a chance to assimilate the benefits, reset and you will hopefully feel great the rest of the day!
Keep these 5 points in mind and your yoga practice will become more enjoyable!
- Esther Ekhart