By Joanna McCracken
In yoga, there is no such thing as perfect — no matter how advanced you are, there’s always something to improve. That’s one of the most beautiful things about the practice. But whether you’re new to yoga or have been hitting the mat for years, many of us make at least one of these four common mistakes. The good news? We’ll tell you how to fix them.
Yoga Mistake #1
Holding Your Breath: When you are physically or emotionally stressed, your breath gets short, shallow, and constricted rather than long, deep, and relaxed. Notice this the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, or when you’re doing a really tough workout.
Unlike other forms of exercise, in yoga your breath is a practice unto itself (called pranayama). In any good yoga class, your teacher will include breath as part of the instruction, syncing it with your movement. This focus on your breath releases stress and connects you to your body and the present moment. Plus, by drawing attention to your breath when things get tough or stressful on your mat, you’ll learn what to do when things get tough or stressful off your mat.
Yoga Mistake #2
Pushing Yourself Too Hard: Of course you want to challenge yourself, but in doing so you shouldn’t hurt yourself. Yoga should not be painful. Pain is your body’s way of telling you you’ve gone too far. You’ll still feel the burn when you’re working hard to gain strength or flexibility, but that’s a different kind of pain than the kind that comes with a torn hamstring.
To avoid injury, don’t push yourself to go straight into the most challenging pose. The more basic poses in yoga can still be incredibly challenging, and they’re also crucial building blocks for the more advanced poses. Mastering the basics will get you safely and successfully into that crazy arm balance or inversion, if and when you’re ready. Practice consistently, and you’ll learn when you should push yourself and when to back off.
Yoga Mistake #3
Comparing Yourself to Others: Repeat after me — yoga is not a competition. It’s for everyone! It doesn’t matter what the person on the mat next to you looks like or what crazy pose he or she is doing, what matters is what you are doing. Paying attention to what’s going on in your own body will help you avoid injury and allow your practice to progress. Plus, yoga is a moving meditation — if you focus on the person in the crazy twisty-handstand-thingy in front of you, not only are you going to get frustrated or down on yourself, you’re going to take yourself out of the moment.
Yoga Mistake #4
Skipping Savasana: This is the final resting pose of your yoga class, you know, the one where you get to lie down. For some people, savasana is their favorite part of class, and for others it is really difficult. Whether it’s hard because you can’t lie still, have a hard time relaxing, or feel like you don’t have the time, remember that this could be the most important pose of your practice. It sets you up to gradually enter a truly relaxed state, allows you to absorb all of the wonderful things that have happened within your body during class, and can act as a starting point for meditation. If you’re a serial savasana skipper, try to stick around the next time you practice. And if lying on your back is uncomfortable for any reason, talk to your teacher and see if they can recommend a modification, such as lying on your stomach. After all, yoga shouldn’t be stressful or uncomfortable — just the opposite.