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What are Common Mistakes in Yoga and How to avoid them?

When you practice yoga, you are putting yourself into bodily positions that have the intention of benefiting you, but if done incorrectly or without an awareness of your own body, you can physically harm yourself.

The most common mistakes in yoga are competitiveness, not listening to your body’s limitations and holding the breath during the flow. These are just a few things to consider when you're going to a yoga class. If you avoid these common mistakes, you'll have a very enjoyable and enlightening yoga practice

Let's take a look at common mistakes made in yoga and ways to avoid them. Some of these deal with direct effects on the body while others are more indirect.

Don't Forget To Breathe

Breath is the foundation of just about every yoga practice. The breath cultivates good blood and oxygen flow throughout the body so that you can move into the various yoga postures. Also, the breath is an essential resource for creating a deeper connection and awareness of yourself in yoga exercise.

It is important, then, to breathe effectively throughout your practice. An instructor should provide breath cues to help you remember to breathe. It is not too uncommon for a yoga practitioner to hold their breath while they practice yoga. This may occur when a particular yoga pose is more challenging. Since the posture is potentially foreign or difficult, the body reacts by holding the breath. The lack of breath constricts blood flow and creates muscle tension that does not allow for ease and bodily flow when attempting any yoga posture. When things get tough, take a deep breath!

Align your body in asana

When you practice some yoga postures, it is important to be structurally sound when holding the position. This could be in a basic yoga pose like Mountain Pose (Tadasana), or a challenging yoga posture like Crow Pose (Bakasana). Aligning the body properly will create a stronger posture and you'll gain more from the experience.

Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II) pose in the yoga studio

Let's take a look at Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II) as an example of proper alignment. In such a pose, you are looking for safety in your joints and muscles so that you can hold the posture effectively. Aligning joints over joints is a good reminder for the practicing yogi.

In Warrior 2, you are standing in a lunge: the front leg is bent, the back leg is straight, both feet are firm on the floor, and the upper body is opened with arms extended outward over the legs respectively. In this hip opening posture, you want to be aware of what is happening with the front leg that is bent at the knee.

A common mistake is having the knee aligning over the toes. This will create too much weight and pressure in the knee joint. Another mistake is having the knee shift to the inside of the foot. This contorts the knee in a way that may cause potential damage to the joint. Instead, be sure to stack the knee joint directly over the ankle bone. This creates a strong line of energy from bone to bone that will help you to engage your thigh muscle; this will allow for a structurally sound and safe posture.

Be aware of your Joints

There are a couple of things you need to be aware of when you practice yoga in relation to your joints; in particular, your knees, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. It is important to not lock your knee and elbow joints when practicing some yoga poses.

When you lock the joints, pressure increases in these areas and does not allow for the muscles to engage. This causes damage to the joints over time and does not allow for the natural strength of the muscles to take place. An easy correction is make sure you bend the knees and elbows a bit. That will take you out of the joint pressure and assures muscle engagement. This can be a problem for yogis that are double jointed. They are more likely to settle into their joints in postures like Mountain Pose or Plank Pose. You may have to be more mindful in keeping the knees or elbows bent in order to avoid this common mistake.

Don’t compare yourself with others

One thing about yoga is that it is not a competitive sport. Although you may practice in a group or class, the focus is on yourself. There may be a tendency, though, to look around the room to see what the other yogis are doing. You examine how one person can touch her toes without bending her knees or how another yogi can stand on one foot without falling over.

You begin to compare yourself to the other yogis around you. This is a common mistake in a yoga class. The practice of yoga is purely about yourself; it's a personal practice. There is no need to compare; you may end up criticizing yourself which is contrary to what the practice is all about.

Be Safe And Comfortable

A few other things to note about practicing yoga is safety and comfort. If you happen to be in a Vinyasa yoga class, one that flows from one pose to the other without much of a break, you want to take your time. Move slowly. There is no need to push or assert yourself too aggressively in this style or any other style of yoga. Be gentle on yourself. You'll experience more benefits if you take your practice at an easy pace.

Right yoga mat for your practice

Natural rubber base, microfiber top Mandala yoga mat

Another area for safety (and comfort, too) is having the right yoga mat for your yoga practice. There have been times when instructors have seen students walk in with exercise mats (which are VERY different from yoga mats). Some mats are too slippery, don't stick to the floor, or are the wrong size.

You want to have the best yoga mat that suits the yoga style you're practicing. For example, if you're attending an Ashtanga Yoga Class or a Hot Yoga Class, you're more than likely to sweat a lot. You'll want a good yoga mat with a towel top so your hands and feet stay stable if your mat gets too wet.

Yoga wear

And the final thing about comfort is to wear something in which you can easily move. Not a good idea to wear a heavy clothing to a yoga class. Often light weight clothing like shorts and a t-shirt are sufficient. You also want to wear things that will not obstruct your practice. Flowing blouses or baggy pants may distract you while you're trying to get into some of your poses. Leggings and less fluid tops are the way to go. Remember, you want your yoga practice to be about calm and ease, not about stress and distraction.

Closing thought

Practicing yoga is about tuning in, reflecting on yourself, being more aware of what is going on inside of you rather than outside. It doesn't matter if you can't touch your toes or if you topple out of a balancing pose. Arrive on your mat as you are and steadily watch your own personal progress and growth.

Updated 14 December, 2020

Gita Mike

Gita Mike

Gita Mike is a long time meditator and yoga practitioner who believes there is a spiritual solution to any challenge that we are faced with. She wants to share her experience and knowledge to help others find their path towards mindfulness, peace, and fulfillment.

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