I did my first yoga class when I was 16 years old, and I was so mad at my mom for dragging me to that first session. But that experience laid the groundwork for what would later become one of my greatest passions. I've now been teaching yoga for five years, and I spent three of those years traveling around the world as an instructor, so I've seen a lot of different bodies do all kinds of different yoga. It's been a truly rewarding experience, and I've learned a great deal along the way.
While teaching yoga may seem like an easy job — some of my friends are still convinced I get to just lie around in Savasana for an hour — it requires a lot of critical thinking. You have to pay close attention to every single person in the room, adjust safely when needed, and provide appropriate modifications for each body. It can be difficult to walk the line of pushing your students to their limits and also encouraging a safe, injury-free practice.
I've gathered a lot of intel over the years, and these are the four biggest mistakes I commonly see people make during class.
Not Breathing Through the Difficult Parts of Class
The breath is paramount in all of your movement, particularly in a yoga class. All too often I see people holding their breath when the going gets tough. This is a typical bodily reaction to slight stress in the body, but it's not doing you any favors when it comes to furthering your practice. When you hold your breath, you tighten up your body and actually invite more stress into your body. Make sure you're breathing slowly and rhythmically with each movement.
Giving Up Too Easily
The more you go to yoga, the more you might see advanced postures that make your jaw drop to the floor, like handstands or arm balances. But when it's your turn to try these postures, or at least work up to doing them, the worst thing you can do is give up when you realize how hard it is. I've seen this so many times in my classes. Students will sigh and plop down on the ground, feeling either defeated that they can't get it on the first try or just enamored by watching the more advanced students performing the posture.
Rather than getting caught up in what you "should" be doing or what other people around you are doing, bring your full focus to just working on your own practice. Don't feel discouraged when you can't get a posture on the first try. You'll get there as long as you put in the work!
Performing Chaturanga the Wrong Way
Chaturanga is the one yoga posture I see nearly everyone botch. People usually sink too low, to where their shoulders are below their elbows. This is potentially damaging on the shoulder girdle. Additionally, too many people look up, which puts strain on the neck; keep a neutral neck and look a few inches in front of your hands instead. Finally, make sure you're squeezing your elbows into your body the whole time.
Making Yoga Your Only Source of Exercise
I'm a huge believer in cross training. Restricting your body to one particular movement prevents you from being fully functional, and you may not be able to achieve as much as you'd like in your fitness. Everybody needs the big three — flexibility, strength, and endurance. Yoga certainly gives you flexibility and some strength, but I wish I saw my clients doing more strength training and cardio. Pick whatever activities you love most and do them regularly. Your yoga practice will even improve from it.