As a yoga teacher, I often see all kinds of people walking through those doors to come to their mat and practice yoga in a safe space with others who are seeking just a moment of stillness and peace. However, over the years, I have noticed commonalities in the “mistakes” of yoga practitioners, old and new, myself included.
I believe it is important to highlight these mistakes because they are simple things that inhibit confidence, and ultimately, the feeling of happiness that we seek. Take note: the mistakes are not your typical misplaced foot or “wrong” attire.
1. Worrying about alignment
One of the most frequent questions I get from panicked students is, “Does this look okay? Am I doing this right?” And I always follow with asking them in return, “How do you feel?” (after first checking that what they are doing isn’t universally dangerous).
Here’s the thing: every single body is different. As such, every body will look different in the same pose. While there are various rules of alignment, they cannot be applied across the board to individuals who have unique needs, goals, and capabilities. It is more important to become aware of how something feels.
Our bodies are (generally) the best gauge in telling us whether we are okay in a pose versus pictures on the internet or arbitrary rules that differ from tradition to tradition. Yoga is about developing body awareness, so take note if something is causing pain or discomfort and stop doing that thing. Shift around and find where it feels good.
2. Not breathing
Breathing is integral to yoga. It is one of the things that demarcate yoga from other wellness or fitness exercises. Breathwork is called pranayama and in yoga, it is one of the ways in which we connect to our inner being. Breathing is very literally our connection to life.
During flows that generate heat, I notice that people will occasionally retain their breath. It is a somewhat natural response to difficulty. However, it is vital to breathe!
One of the best ways to ensure you are breathing is to let the breath-each inhale and each exhale- guide your movement. Rather than breathing at random moments, you breathe before you move. And then you breathe when you are in the pose, and then again after the pose is complete. The breath, not the movement, should be at the forefront of your mind.
3. Comparing yourself to others
Lastly, and perhaps the “biggest” mistake I see is people comparing themselves to others in the class, on their phones, and in the magazines. Yoga is not a sport. There is no rulebook or award for yogaing the right way. Yoga is a personal, but not a solitary, journey that connects us to ourselves and to others. It is a time to discern and reflect on yourself, your relationships, and your place in the world.
So, keep your eyes on your mat (or your focal point), keep your heart and mind open, and put away that competitive drive for later. You need it, but not in yoga.
The next time you head out to class or roll out your mat, keep in mind that your practice is a time to journey inward, evaluate, and reflect. Try not to worry about your alignment, what you look like, or how other people are doing, and instead, focus on your breath!
Heather Horrell is a yoga teacher and perinatal professional who loves crafting and coffee.
Image: Creative Commons user the yoga people (no changes made.)