Even though it's been around for centuries, yoga is still one of the biggest workout trends and has thousands of Lululemon-clad devotees hitting the mat every day. Once you start going to class a few times a week, you get into a rhythm, enjoying the consistent class structure and the workout you're supposedly getting out of it without going anywhere near a treadmill or free weights. Just breathe, and you'll be toned, lean, and zen, right?
Not so fast. There are a lot of little ways that you may be making your yoga classes less effective. Every yogi can make some tweaks to improve her practice, whether you're a downward dog newbie or doing headstands on the regular. We asked Sara Ivanhoe, a yoga instructor and trainer to many celebrities and yoga spokesperson for Weight Watchers, to share the top five yoga mistakes she sees, along with quick fixes so your next mat session is better than ever.
1. You're moving too fast
Indoor cycling or CrossFit classes are all about speed: seeing how much you can do in a set amount of time. While those workouts have their perks— high intensity interval training is great cardio for the time-strapped — yoga is about taking things extra S-L-O-W. "The myth out there is that if you're not moving fast, you're not getting a good workout, which is not true for every type of fitness. In yoga, the slower you go, the better and harder your workout will be. It's more about building endurance," says Ivanhoe. Next time you find yourself flying through Vinyasa, take time moving through the poses — it will make you work much harder.
2. Back-bends and twists are your go-to for back pain
It may seem intuitive to want to bend the back into cobra pose if its aching, but this could actually bring on more pain. "95 percent of back problems are not related to flexibility," says Ivanhoe. "Instead, your back muscles need to be strengthened, rather than stretched." If you suffer from back pain, go easy on the twists and focus on moves that will work the back, such as locust pose.
3. Your feet are too far apart (or too close together)
Let's face it. When you're trying breathe, hold poses, focus, and chill out all at the same time, it can be very easy to overlook the tiny details. But leg width is super important when it comes to proper body alignment. "Too close together can bring on knee pain, but being too far apart can cause pulled hamstrings," says Ivanhoe. How can you tell if your warrior pose is up to par? Instead of looking around the room to match up to your neighbor, ask the instructor to help set the best width for you, since everyone's legs are different, says Ivanhoe.
4. You drink water during practice.
Everyone and their mother tells you to gulp down H2O during workouts, so why shouldn't you hydrate on the mat? "If you really study the practice of yoga, you will find that ancient texts suggest not drinking two hours before and about half an hour after class. The ideas is that you have an internal fire that not only detoxifies but also gives you energy. Water, essentially, puts out that fire," says Ivanhoe. She suggests hydrating properly during the day, that way you won't be suddenly parched mid-downward dog. Of course, if you didn't adequately hydrate before class, by all means, drink up. "If for whatever reason somebody has not had any water, better that they drink the water during class, but you want to get in the habit of coming in with a full tank already," she says.
5. You skip Savasana
If you regularly ditch the last few minutes of class — dedicated to lying still, meditating, and slow breathing exercises, often in darkness — consider this: "All types of practices are different, and there are very few things in yoga teachers agree on, but even given that, one of the very things that all yoga is the importance of Savasana, pretty much almost every style, every theory, anywhere in the world," says Ivanhoe. Not only does this last pose allow us to completely relax, it's actually one of most challenging poses, which is why many might want to avoid it. "We've gotten really good at working hard, multitasking, and challenging ourselves but what we need to work on is sitting still and stilling our minds, which can be the most difficult thing to do nowadays," she says. Instead of bolting for the door once the lights dim, stay until the end. We bet you'll be even more zened out when you leave.