Do you ever wonder if you’re practicing a yoga pose properly? If you should be pressing down through your hands? Or externally rotating your thigh? Or where your focus should be energetically?
When I teach yoga class, I often give a lot of alignment cues to help my students enter into and find the proper and safe alignment in a yoga pose.
But honestly? I’m a visual person and while the verbal cues help me tune into what’s going on in my body, photos and videos helps me process and understand that information a lot better.
A couple of weeks ago on Periscope, I shared some common yoga mistakes I see (a lot) in the classes I teach and how to fix your yoga pose. It was a little live “This Not That” session that I thought I’d expand upon on here.
Here’s a break-down of four yoga postures that we see a lot in yoga classes.
Please note: Everyone’s body is different. The point here is not to mimic the pose exactly how it appears here or in any other yoga book or photo. It’s about have the proper structural and energetic focus in each pose so that you can reap the most benefit from your yoga practice and can practice in a safe way.
Oh Downward-Facing Dog. You seem like such a simple pose. Just an inverted V, right? Ha!
While we often come to downward dog as a “resting” pose in class, it’s anything but a passive pose. The shape that you see in the photo above is one that I see a lot in class. This places a whole lot of pressure and weight in your lower back, shoulders and upper arms, making the pose super strenuous. Not fun.
Here are some common yoga mistakes in Downward Dog:
- Lower back is rounded.
- Sitting bones fall forward and are not lifting up and back.
- Weight is dumping into the shoulders.
- Hands are not grounding down into the floor or pressing the floor away.
- Shoulder shrug up towards the ears.
- Heels are reaching up towards the ceiling.
- Knees are locked out.
There is a lot that’s going on in this pose. The above photo doesn’t cover half of it! But here are the main points to keep in mind:
- Ground down firmly through the hands and spread your fingers wide. Press the floor away from you (as opposed to just letting the weight pour into your hands) to help lengthen the spine and reach the sitting bones high.
- This is probably one of the most common yoga mistakes I see in class – not fully engaging the upper body in downward-facing dog. You need to press the floor away firmly with your hands in order to get extension through your spine.
- Externally rotate the upper arms bones so that your triceps wrap out and down towards the ground and your biceps spin up towards your face and to the ceiling. This will allow you to find more length through the arms and the back.
- Press the thigh bones back into the hamstrings. Press the shinbones back into the calves.
- Reach the heels towards the floor. It should feel as if there’s a line of energy flowing from your sitting bones, down the back of your legs to your heels.
- You can keep a bend in the knees if your hamstrings are tight and especially if that will help you maintain length in the back so you’re not dumping into the shoulders and arms.
- Keep your gaze down towards the ground.
- Keep your neck loose.
Tree pose is one of the fundamental balancing postures. There’s really just one thing you should beware of in this pose:
- Don’t place your foot against the inner knee of the standing foot. This places a lot of pressure on your knee which could ultimately lead to knee problems.
- Don’t stare down at the ground in front of you.
Since the purpose of this pose is to work on balance, you have two options of where to place your foot. It doesn’t matter if you take the more advanced variation or not – you want to focus on feeling rooted through the standing leg.
- Do place your foot against the inner shin or the upper inner thigh of the standing leg.
- Do keep your gaze lifted and focused on a stationary point ahead of you.
One of the things that I love about Warrior II pose is that it makes me feel strong and confident. However, there’s a lot that can go wrong in this pose.
- The torso leans forward and away from your center of gravity (hips/pelvis), like your being pulled forward by the front fingertips.
- The front knee collapses inward and/or comes forward of the front ankle.
- The back foot isn’t grounding down into the floor.
When done properly, Warrior II feels incredibly powerful and fierce. If you look at the above picture, you could draw a line down the center of my body and the lines of energy radiate out from this central point, almost as if your body is being pulled in two different directions. The right half and the left half of the body are doing different things
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Keep your torso and head stacked directly over your pelvis.
- Bend your front knee towards 90 degrees with knee stacked over the ankle. Think about pressing the knee out towards your pinky toe.
- It should feel like there’s a line of energy that originates at the pelvis and moves forward toward the front knee.
- Drop the front thigh bone down towards the floor. In order to do that, you have to externally rotate the front hip (right hip in the above picture). Think about the outer hip wrapping down and underneath your sitting bone.
- Ground down through the outer edge of the back food.
- It should feel like there is a line of energy originates from the pelvis and moves away from that center point towards the outer edge of the back foot.
- Keep your gaze soft over your front arm
Twists are great poses to help stimulate the digestive system and are good overall for spine health…except if you’re not doing them properly, they might not feel all that great.
One of the common yoga mistakes in twisting postures is forcing the twist superficially instead of letting the twist originate from the spine. For example, you may hike your hips like in the above picture so it feels like your twisting to the side. Or, you may throwing your arm or shoulder back behind you or cranking your neck behind you in an effort to “twist” more.
In a pose like revolved chair pose, there are three common yoga mistakes:
- The knees are uneven. Typically, the knee on the side you’re twisting away from (right side in the above picture) creeps ahead of the other knee (left knee in the above picture).
- The chest collapses instead of remaining open.
- When your chest collapses, your lower back tends to round.
There’s one important thing to remember about twisting postures. In twisting posture, your pelvis should remain square the level. This provides a solid base from which your spine can grow and lengthen. Then, the twist originates from the base of the spine and slowly makes its way up your spine like a corkscrew. Lengthen the spine with each inhale and slowly twist with each exhale.
In Revolved Chair Pose, keep these points in mind:
- Keep the knees in line with each other.
- Keep your chest open. It may be helpful to think about pointing the top elbow up towards the ceiling and leaning back away from your thigh.
- The twist comes from the spine so don’t force it by forcing your elbows or gaze behind your.
- Keep your weight in the heels.
What yoga pose do you find most challenging? Is there a pose you’d like to see broken down?
This post is part of the Ask a Yogini series. Each month, I’ll answer a question about yoga – anything that you’re curious about. Chances are, if you have the question, someone else does too! Leave any questions you may have in the comments below!
You may also like:
- 12 Simple Ways to Modify Your Yoga Practice
- Best Stretches for People Who Sit All Day
- Tips for Starting and Maintaining a Home Yoga Practice
- Best Yoga Poses for Headaches
- Best Yoga Poses for Sleep
- Yoga for Runners Series
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