Yoga is supposed to be all about serenity and bliss, but there's no way you'll feel relaxed and at peace with the world if you're making these major no-nos on the mat.
- Not connecting breath with movements: For every movement in your yoga practice, there is a breath pattern that goes along with it. For example, to start a Sun Salutation, you inhale to raise your arms up, and exhale to fold forward. Connecting your breath to your movements gives your yoga practice a sense of fluidity. This not only helps create a sense of calm, but the breath keeps you mindful, focused, and aware of each movement, which can help prevent injuries and improve balance.
- Keeping your belly soft: Proper breathing in yoga involves bringing your breath into your chest, feeling your ribs expand and deflate with each breath. You can do this by drawing your navel in toward your spine and keeping your abs engaged, so when you inhale, you see your chest fill up rather than your belly. Aside from helping you breathe properly (which will help you with the first no-no), keeping your belly engaged also protects your lower back, which can prevent pain or injury.
- Tensing when unnecessary: Clenched toes, scrunched shoulders (as shown above), and white knuckles aren't exactly the picture of relaxation, are they? I realize some challenging poses takes every ounce of strength and attention to hold for five breaths, but make sure to constantly scan your body for unnecessary areas of tightness. Make a conscious effort to relax the muscles that don't need to be working overtime.
- Pushing yourself even if it hurts: Yoga is supposed to be about breath and bliss, but if you have a competitive nature, it's impossible not to glance at someone who looks like they know what they're doing and try to do the poses
even better thanjust like them. That's a great way to sign yourself up for a pulled muscle. Make sure you're doing poses with correct alignment to the best of your ability. Your muscles should feel like they're working, not like they're about to rip apart.
- Gazing at everyone else: While it's tempting to check out other people in your yoga class, it breaks your awareness, making it difficult to follow your breath, not to mention stay balanced in Tree pose. Depending on the pose, your drishti (where you look) might be at the tip of your nose, your third eye (between your eyebrows), at your navel, your toes, or toward your fingertips. If you're unsure where your drishti is supposed to be in certain postures, ask your teacher.
- Wearing yoga socks and gloves: While many companies sell them, I feel they're unnecessary unless you find yourself practicing on the bare floor without a mat. Other than that, they should not be worn. It's important to feel completely grounded with no distractions. Not only can they bunch up and get in the way of certain poses, yoga socks and gloves also create a barrier between you and your mat, making you feel less connected to the ground. If you wear these accessories because germs and bacteria on studio mats creep you out, it's time to buy your own personal mat. If you have a mat but it's too slippery, shop for one with a stickier surface that ensures your feet and hands stay put.