No one starts out being good at yoga, it takes practise. And part of that practise is learning from mistakes. So why not learn from the most common yoga mistakes that I’ve both made and see regularly in class:
1. Holding your breath
The number one mistake people make in yoga is holding their breath. Often when students are trying to get the pose right, concentrating or trying to balance, they hold their breath. Holding your breath prevents the free flow of energy and creates stress and tension – the exact opposite of what a yoga practice is about. If you find that you’re having to hold your breath, it’s a sure sign that you’re pushing too hard. Whether you’re lying down, are upside down or standing on one leg, you need to have a steady breath. If you catch yourself out of breath, take a break, regain control of your breath and then re-join the class.
2. Not using props
Blankets, straps, blocks and bolsters are props to support your yoga practice. Everyone has different anatomy, different injuries and limitations. Props help you to modify your practice to suit your body. Using a block or blanket to prop yourself up in a seated pose is not a sign of weakness, it’s smart. Using a strap to reach your feet or bind your arms behind your back is intelligent.
Props can help us to access the pose and target the proper area of the body. They can help us to go deeper into a pose or protect ourselves from injury.
3. Downward Dog
Downward Dog is quite a technical yoga pose. The whole body is involved and needs to be working in harmony to ensure correct alignment. It is a pose that I have struggled with over the years and these are some common mistakes I see:
Make an inverted V-shape, not a U-shape
The spine should be straight in Downward Dog, not curved. A curved spine places more weight in the shoulders and wrists and can lead to injury. To straighten the spine, bend the knees, push the hips and thighs back. If you have tight hamstrings, you can keep the knees bent. Push more weight into the legs to reduce the distribution of weight in the upper body. Aim for a 40:60 weight distribution – 40% in the arms, 60% in the legs. If you’re not sure about the shape of your Down Dog, ask your teacher.
Protect your wrists from injury
Students can get sore wrists or even risk an injury if they’re not careful in Down Dog. Firstly, if you feel pain in any yoga pose you should stop immediately and ask your teacher for help. Wrist pain can result from too much weight in the wrists, so make sure you’re pushing more weight back into the legs. Spread your fingers wide and press down through all five knuckles. Make sure you press firmly through the inner edges of your hands.
Make sure the angle of your hand relative to your forearm isn’t too acute. Have a look at the crease of your wrist, make sure it’s facing the front of the mat and try to increase the angle.
4. Up dog
Upward Facing Dog and Cobra are two different poses. Upward dog is the stronger of the two. Proper alignment in this pose requires core and upper body strength to avoid dumping into the shoulders or crunching into the lower back.
I see many beginners pushing themselves into this pose, incorrectly, placing a lot of strain on the lower back or shoulders. The correct alignment is shown above.
Common mistakes I see are:
- Toes are curled under rather than being on the tops of the feet
- Knees are on the floor rather than lifting
- Crunching or dipping into the lower back, pelvis should be tucked to avoid this
- Eyes of the elbows face forward rather than in
- Crunching the back of the neck
- Collapsing or jamming into the shoulders
- Shoulders are up near the ears
- Rolling onto the outside edges of the palms/lifting up through thumb and index finger
Starting from Cobra pose, press your hands into the floor, and slide your chest forward. Come onto the tops of your feet and lift the kneecaps while tucking the tailbone under. Lift the chest and press the mat away with your hands. Relax the shoulder blades down the back (away from the ears), press down through your knuckles, rotate your forearms in and lift the chest.
If this is too strong for you, keep your legs and hips on the floor in Cobra and keep the arms bent
5. Low plank
Low plank or Chatturanga Dandasana is an extremely strong pose and if done incorrectly can lead to injury. If you are new to yoga, do this on your knees until you feel strong enough. The most common mistakes I see in Chatturanga are:
- Collapsing to the floor with no control
- Elbows out to the side, instead of close to the ribs
- The tops of the shoulders dipping below the elbow
- Hands should be by the ribs rather than in front of the shoulders
- Lifting or dipping through the hips, there should be a straight line through the back, hips and legs
6. Warrior 2
Warrior 2 is a lunge that strengthens and tones the legs while opening the hips and groin. Getting the stance right is the key to this pose. If this stance is too wide or not wide enough, it can lead to a knee injury. The correct alignment is to position the feet a leg-length’s distance apart with the front knee tracking above the front ankle. Common mistakes include:
Taking a stance too wide so that the knee is behind the ankle
Collapsing the knee inwards, you should be able to see your big toe when you look down.
Importantly, you want to feel strong and stable in this pose. If you feel wobbly or like you will fall over, you’re doing it wrong – adjust your stance.
Triangle pose is a lateral (side) bend of the spine. Done correctly, the shoulders should be in the same line as the hips, the chest and belly roll up towards the ceiling and the under-side of the waist is long. The biggest mistake students make in this pose is trying to bend forward and reach for their toes – this mis-aligns the spine, rotates the hips and collapses through the upper body.
Need more help?
Our 5 Week Beginner’s course breaks down all these poses and more to ensure you’re doing it right. We also have two teachers for personalised support and attention. The next course starts in January 2016.