The Yoga Poses Everyone Does Wrong, According To Instructors

Upgrade your flow.

All the yoga poses people do incorrectly, according to instructors.
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What you do on a yoga mat is a private matter between you and your muscles. Having a yoga practice is all about finding what feels good in the moment, whether that means melting into butterfly pose or rolling around in happy baby. There are, however, a few yoga poses everyone does wrong — and your body needs to know.

As you flow through your yoga routine, it’s crucial to check in and make sure you’re using good form in each posture, says Stella Stephanopoulos, a yoga teacher at Equinox and CorePower Yoga. If you drop into a pose with poor alignment, it can throw your body out of whack and put pressure on the wrong areas, like your knees, hips, or ankles. And that can sometimes lead to injury, she tells Bustle.

Doing yoga poses with good form also allows you to receive the maximum benefits from each move. If you want to work on your hips in lizard pose, for example, it’s best to do it correctly so you actually stretch the right area. In the same way, good form is key when you’re using yoga to build strength so that you focus on the intended muscles. Having poor alignment, Stephanopoulos says, could be the difference between working your legs versus your glutes.

If you’re new to yoga — or simply trying to keep up in class — it’s easy to forget about good posture, alignment, and form. It’s also tempting to stretch too far, she adds, which is another yoga no-no. Overstretching quickly turns a casual stretch sesh into a muscle strain. With that in mind, keep reading below for the eight yoga poses everyone does wrong, as well as how to do them properly, according to the experts.

1. Low Lunge

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When doing low lunge pose, it’s super easy to over-bend your front leg, says Stephanopoulos. If you happen to push your knee past your front toes, it can put pressure on your knees and ankles. Lunging too far forward also reduces the stretch in your hip flexors, which is a key benefit of the posture. Here’s how to do it right:

- Start in downward dog with your hips high.

- Exhale and step your right foot forward between your hands.

- Find a 90-degree bend in your front leg.

- Check that your front knee is stacked over your front ankle.

- Drop your left knee to the mat.

- Extend your back leg to feel a stretch in your hip.

- Inhale and reach your arms high over your head.

- Face forward and take several breaths.

- Go back into downward dog.

- Switch sides.

2. Forward Fold To Halfway Lift

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When returning to halfway lift from a forward fold during sun salutations, be sure to keep your back straight. “Most people do not find a flat back,” Stephanopoulos notes. “It should be flat and straight as you rotate your tailbone towards the backside of the room, allowing you to find more length in your spine.”

- With feet hip-width apart, drop your head towards your mat into a forward fold.

- Keep a gentle bend in your knees.

- Inhale and bring your palms to your shins.

- If you like, place yoga blocks on the ground instead.

- Lift halfway up.

- Bring your shoulders away from your ears as you find length in your back.

- Imagine your back is flat like a table.

- Keep your head in line with your spine.

- Engage your core.

3. Pigeon Pose

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Pigeon pose is a slightly trickier yoga posture, which is why things can easily go awry. It’s common to sink towards the side of the bent leg, which causes uneven weight distribution and takes away from the stretch. “When you enter pigeon pose, make sure to keep your weight evenly distributed across both hips,” Stephanopoulos says.

- Start in downward dog with your hips pointing towards the ceiling.

- Lift one leg into the air and step it forward.

- Bend your leg so that your knee lands next to your wrist.

- Extend your back leg straight behind you.

- Untuck your toes.

- Use props, like a yoga block, under your glute for support.

- Make sure both hips are pointed straight forward.

- Reach your arms forward.

- Stay upright or lower your head to your mat for a deeper stretch.

- Hold for several breaths.

- Lift back into downward dog and repeat on the other side.

4. Downward Dog

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While downward dog is a staple posture, it’s actually one of the easiest moves to mess up. “Many people think that they need to keep their legs straight, which actually strains the hamstrings,” Stephanopoulos notes. Think of this pose as creating length in the spine versus the legs. Also, make sure you don’t press too hard into your shoulders.

- Place your hands shoulder-width apart in a quadruped position.

- Step your feet back and place them hip-width apart.

- Spread your fingers into your mat and press into your palms.

- Lift your hips into the air.

- Keep a slight bend in your knees.

- Pedal your heels up and down.

- Think about shifting your weight away from your shoulders.

- Focus on lifting your hips to create length in your spine.

- Feel free to move in this pose to loosen tight muscles.

- Remain for several breaths.

5. Child’s Pose

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Child’s pose is a definite crowd favorite, says Whitney Berger, certified yoga instructor, personal trainer, and founder of WhitFit NYC, but some folks get a little overzealous with the stretching, which can cause pain around the hips, ankles, knees, and shoulders.

- Begin on your hands and knees.

- Sit back onto your heels.

- Fold forward over your knees, or let your knees widen.

- Reach your arms forward.

- Lower your forehead to the floor or turn your head to the side.

- Remain for several breaths.

6. Chair Pose

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When chair pose isn’t done correctly, Berger says it can put strain and pressure on your lower back — and that’s never a good thing. It’s also common to let your knees fall forward, which places pressure on the joints. Here’s what to do instead:

- Stand tall with your feet together or hip-width apart.

- Inhale and reach your arms overhead, palms facing together.

- Exhale and bend your knees.

- Sit your hips back as if sitting in a chair.

- Keep your knees parallel to the floor.

- You should be able to see your toes when you look down.

- Engage your core and tuck your tailbone under.

- Relax your shoulders and look ahead.

- Stay for several breaths.

7. Tree Pose

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The next time you find yourself balancing in tree pose, check to see where you placed your feet. It’s common to press the sole of the lifted foot into your knee, but be aware that can put pressure on the joint in a weird way. Here, Francesca Valarezo, a New York City-based yoga therapeutics, breathwork teacher, shamanic healer, and founder of Shamanek, explains how to do the posture using good form.

- Stand tall on your mat.

- Hug one shin into your chest.

- Turn your knee out.

- Place the sole of your foot against your opposite inner thigh or shin.

- Press into your standing foot.

- Spread your toes for balance.

- Focus your gaze on a wall.

- Connect with your breath.

- Take three to five breaths.

- Switch sides.

8. Three-Legged Down Dog

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In this pose, there’s a tendency to open up the hips by tilting them to one side. To make the most of the move and stay steady, try to keep your hips square as you raise your leg up towards the ceiling, Stephanopoulos says. “Only begin to open up your hips if you bend your knee and stack the hips on top of one another.”

- From downward dog, gently straighten your legs by pressing your heels towards the mat.

- Position your hands shoulder-distance apart and feet hip-width apart.

- Keep your neck neutral.

- Inhale and lift right leg up.

- Check that both hips are facing down towards the mat.

- Flex your lifted foot to strengthen your back leg, almost as if you’re pressing against an imaginary wall.

- Place the lifted foot back on your mat and return to downward dog.

- Repeat with the other leg.

Studies referenced:

Cramer, H. (2018). Injuries and other adverse events associated with yoga practice: A systematic review of epidemiological studies. J Sci Med Sport. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2017.08.026.


Stella Stephanopoulos, yoga teacher at Equinox and CorePower Yoga

Whitney Berger, certified yoga instructor, personal trainer, founder of WhitFit NYC

Francesca Valarezo, New York City-based yoga therapeutics, breathwork teacher, shamanic healer, founder of Shamanek