Sometimes a great stretch is exactly what the doctor ordered. No wonder yoga, a practice dating back more than 5,000 years ago in Northern India, is so popular. One 2016 survey from the Yoga Alliance revealed that there are 36.7 million U.S. yoga practitioners, up from 20.4 million in 2012. With good reason, too. Not only is yoga an ideal way to give your muscles some TLC, it can also increase your sense of self esteem, improve cardiovascular health and ease lower-back pain.
“Yoga is perfect for people with varying skill levels and needs,” says Bethany Lyons, co-founder of Lyons Den Power Yoga in New York City, New York. “It is modifiable, adaptable, adjustable and able to meet the student wherever they are in their process and practice.”
But even though hitting the mat can feel oh-so-good, a few mistakes could turn your practice to anything but. Here, Lyons offers six of the biggest faux pas you’re likely making in class.
Props like yoga blocks, straps and wheels are meant to enhance your practice. Often, people mistakenly see them as a sign of weakness. “Yoga blocks and straps are not just for beginners and they don’t mean you are failing,” says Lyons. “Using a prop allows the practitioner to tailor fit whatever pose they are doing for their body and is extremely helpful for all levels.” Let your yoga instructor know you’re interested in using props, and they’ll be able to guide you as to where you should incorporate them into your practice.
Chaturanga, or a yoga pushup, is a popular component to almost every yoga class. While you don’t want this to be a wide-form pushup, you don’t want to keep your arms so close to your body that you’re relying on them for stability. “This is a common cheat that takes the weight of the body and forces it into the shoulder joint,” says Lyons. “After several hundred of these, your body will start to feel the impingement and impact which can lead to injury.”
Instead, Lyons offers this fix: Stack your elbows over your wrists and lower only to the height of the elbows, moving the elbows straight back (which will be slightly away from the body). This alignment protects the shoulder joint, works the triceps and puts you in perfect position to press firmly down into the mat and straighten the arms directly for upward facing dog with the shoulders integrated.
Mats that move, bunch up and generally don’t support your practice can be very distracting and even dangerous. Finding one that feels comfortable (also: non-slip) is critical to your best flow. “I recommend a high-quality mat like Jade Pro Harmony (Bonus: Every mat bought plants a tree!).”
If you take hot yoga classes and are not using a mat-towel over your sweaty yoga mat, get ready for your life to change. “Turn a slip n’ slide practice into a stable and free-of-distractions practice in the time it takes to roll it out,” says Lyons.
Simply put: Holding your breath cuts off your life force. Breathing is a great gauge for how intense or far you can move into a pose and when you hold your breath, there is no feedback loop telling you when you’re doing too much. “To avoid this issue, put your attention on your breathing and take 5 counts in with a slight pause at the top of the breath and then 5 counts out with a slight pause at the bottom of the breath,” suggests Lyons.
Not only is it very distracting for the other students around you to leave early — but it is arguably the most important asana there is. “In today’s frenetic world, what we need most is deep rest,” says Lyons. “Give yourself and your fellow students the gift of staying for savasana. Simply stay: It’s that easy!”
READ MORE > 7 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE STARTING YOGA