Up Dog… Down Dog… good dog… bad dog? There’s certainly a lot of lingo to learn and poses to perfect when you first step foot into a yoga class. But what are the common yoga mistakes that people miss? Trust me when I say you’re not the only one to be thrown for a loop by Warrior II and Warrior I. It can be overwhelming trying to master all of the intricacies that go along with each and every pose. Thankfully, that’s what instructors are here for.
“The most common mistake I see students make is honestly in the mental practice of yoga,” Yoga instructor Beau Campbell tells me. “I often see students setting their expectations of themselves too high and never giving their bodies a break.”
Beau went on to say that the idea of always having to be in “your lowest lunge, your deepest stretch, or your longest arm balance” can lead to stress on the body and mind. So consider this a yoga teacher's form of "doctor's orders" and ease up on those bodies, my fellow yogis! After all, practicing a pose the wrong way can also potentially lead to unnecessary soreness and injuries.
“The most common injuries are seen in the wrists, shoulders, lower back, and hamstrings,” Campbell says. “So many poses bear weight on the hands and we leave all the work up to the wrists. You need to pull up in the core and shoulders to avoid dumping into your joints.”
Newbies and seasoned yogis alike can both be guilty of making these mistakes in class. It's all part of the learning process. "Practice so you can practice tomorrow, " Campbell advises. "Don’t come in with expectations of your body. Don’t worry about what you did yesterday. Focus on your present state and breathe!" As a yoga instructor who wants to help her students perfect their moves, correct any wrong-doings, and avoid potential injuries, I've compiled a list of some of the most common yoga mistakes students make — and how to correct them.
1. Mountain Pose
The most common mistakes students make when doing this pose is opening up the rib cages too much while also sticking the butt out, says Campbell. While this may give your booty a nice little boost, it's certainly not doing your back any favors!
To correct your posture, engage the lower belly and draw the midline in. "Think of the front ribs corseting together and life tall through the crown of the head," Campbell says. "Instead of tucking the butt under, I like to think about my hip flexors as long and flat to create proper alignment in the hips and length through the front body."
2. Downward Facing Dog
Mistakes in this pose typically include, "hyper-extending the arms and letting the chest sag toward the ground with the shoulder up by the ears," according to Campbell, as well rounding through the spine too much while remaining on the tippy-toes and not allowing the heels to move towards the ground.
To fix these issues, "spread the fingers wide and keep a micro-bend in the elbows while rotating the shoulder down the back. Send the chest towards the thighs while keeping the spine lengthened instead of arching," says Campbell. Also make sure to have a good distance between your hands and feet. Your ankles and heels want to be reaching as close to the ground as you can get them, with the ultimate objective to get those heels flat on the floor.
3. Plank Pose
Once again, rounding the spine too much in this pose defeats the objective, as does lowering the hips too far to the ground and creating an arch in the spine. "Dumping into the shoulders and wrists, letting the belly release and arching the lower back, and disengaging the legs" are some of the biggest mistakes students make when doing this pose, adds Campbell.
In order to fix your plank pose, Campbell suggests "pushing into the floor with the hands while pushing up out of the shoulder, keeping the shoulder blades down the back. Lengthen through the spine and back of the neck, engage below the belly button and lift the kneecaps. Keep the legs engaged and breathe!"
The secret to plank pose is really all about engaging your core. Keep those abs nice and tight, as you try to create as straight a line as possible with your body by lowering those hips so that they are aligned with your spine. Also make sure that your wrists are directly in line under your shoulders and you’re on the balls of your feet, with your heels lifted toward the sky.
4. Warrior II
Students often either don't put enough space between their legs and not enough bend in their front knee in this pose, or they put too much. Another common mistake is raising the shoulders up towards the ears, creating tension in the neck.
In order to fix these mistakes, make sure there is a good distance between your front and back leg, create a deep bend in your front knee, while still pushing through the back foot so that it remains flat on the floor. Make sure that your ankle is directly in line with your knee so that it is creating a straight line, as opposed to being too far in front of or behind your ankle. Keeping the bend in your front knee, extend your arms in opposite directions, following your legs. Roll your shoulder blades down your back and lower them away from your ears as you reach through the fingertips, keeping your gaze over your front hand and creating a strong, powerful stance.
5. Tree Pose
Resting your foot on your kneecap is the number one no-no of tree pose. Avoid breaking that branch by placing your foot above or below the knee of your supporting leg.
Solid Tree Trunk
Pressing into your supporting leg, begin by bringing your opposite knee into your chest. Once you have your balance, allow your knee to turn out to the side and rest the bottom of your foot above your knee on the inside of your upper thigh or below your knee on the inside of your calf. Continuing a steady breath to help focus your mind and body, bring your hands to a prayer position at your heart, or experiment a little by raising them toward the sky, creating branches with your arms.
If you're looking for even more assistance to help perfect your poses, check out Campbell's upcoming tropical yoga retreat, and if you're liking my yogi look, you can get these awesome VIMMIA X activewear pants here.
Images: Maggie Giuffrida