10 Common Mistakes You’re Probably Making in Yoga Class

According to Philly yoga teachers.

Cold weather season is about to hit us hard. Meaning: We’ll be spending a lot more time in yoga studios — preferably heated ones. And naturally, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the most out of every practice (those downward dogs don’t come for cheap!). So to help you out (and encourage a safe and awesome practice every time), we chatted with 10 Philly yoga teachers and asked them to spill on the top mistakes they see students make in their classes, plus the fixes for those mistakes. Read on to make sure you’re not accidentally sabotaging your mat time.

The Mistake: Pushing too hard to get into a pose (AKA pose chasing)
The Fix: “The point isn’t to force ourselves into positions. The point is to embrace the position we can attain in that moment with proper alignment and engagement, whether you’re a beginner or advanced. You can’t force open the petals of the lotus, it will bloom when it’s ready. It is important to accept where you are in your practice. Receive the ‘you’ that you are and trust that beauty unfolds naturally, in its own time when it’s ready.” — Mariel Freeman, Three Queens Yoga

The Mistake: Trying to reach the floor in trikonasana (AKA triangle pose)
The Fix:
“Focus on reaching up rather than down! First, engage the front quadricep muscle to create length in the front leg; people often bring a big bend in the front knee to reach the floor. Allow the bottom hand to rest (yes, release the death grip!) on the inside of the shin or ground it on a block inside or outside the foot. By bringing the bottom hand up higher onto the leg, you can pull the top shoulder back and shine your heart away from the floor. Keep the belly button zipped into spine as you reach your top hand to the sky, thumb over the lips.” — Maria Sylvester Terry, Wissahickon Warriors

The Mistake: Sacrificing breath for a posture
The Fix:
“Breathing is the most important element to your practice. When your breath is labored or sporadic, give yourself more support in the posture — use blocks or find more stability. Focus your attention to creating the smoothest, deepest, and most rhythmic breath possible, in and out through your nose.” — Justine Bacon, Priya Hot Yoga

The Mistake: Dropping your shoulders too low in low plank (chaturanga)
The Fix:
“This not only can cause injury, but it makes the pose so much harder! The shoulders should only drop halfway down, lining up with the height of the elbow in low plank. An easy way to measure this is by putting a yoga block between your hands in high plank and lowering to low plank, letting your chest hover right over the block. When this correction is made I often get a reaction of, ‘Wow, that was easy!'” — Ali Redding, Yoga Habit

The Mistake: Wide knees in a backbend
The Fix:
“When back-bending, if one hugs the upper inner thighs strongly together to preclude the knees splaying wider than the hips, this will ensure a less precarious position for the lower back. Then, by applying the action of moving one’s navel in and up to access the full power of the abdominals, the lower back will lengthen and get the space it needs to feel strong, safe and supple.” — Kilkenny Tremblay, Sanctuary Yoga & Mindfulness

The Mistake: Forcing straight legs in downward dog
The Fix:
“In down dog, make sure your feet are inner-hips-width apart. Bend your knees a good three to five inches and widen your knees as wide as your feet. With your knees bent, work your arms straight until you create a healthy lift out of your pelvis in your lower back. Only as much as you can keep that lift in your low-back, work your legs towards straight.”— Jake Panasevich, Yoga with Jake

The Mistake: Locking out joints (Example: locking elbows in downward dog or knees in standing poses like triangle)
The Fix:
“For those of us with hyper-flexible joints, the key is awareness. Bring attention to the poses in which we hyper-extend so we can focus on engaging the muscles around the joint. A good way to think about this is, in triangle pose for example, first soften the knee joint and then tone the muscles of the thigh to straighten the leg with more support. Actively engaged muscles = happier joints!” — Patricia Blumenauer, Mama’s Wellness Joint

The Mistake: Pushing hips and knees forward in a lunge, without any support from the core
The Fix:
“To avoid this, start the lunge with two ninety-degree angles in the legs. Engage the glute of the back leg and only push forward until you feel a light stretch in your quadricep and the muscles that cross the hip. With breath and patience you may find that you can go deeper without compromising your alignment.” — Katie Gould, KG Strong

The Mistake: Breathing without thought
The Fix:To facilitate a better practice of conscious, consistent breath while practicing, at the start of class I give students an experience of a dramatically longer inhale and exhale in order to reset their breathing pattern. From this point, and as we move the body, I start to emphasize breathing which is consistent on the inhale and exhale. The last part of the equation is matching the breath to movement, which allows the practice to become not just physical exercise, but a true ‘moving meditation.'”— Daniel Cordua, Palo Santo Wellness Boutique

The Mistake: Not hingeing at the hip in forward folds and downward dogs
The Fix:
“Pursue private instruction with their teacher to avoid stress in the lower back and neck strain in these positions and many others. Just a few private lessons can be the difference between reinforcing bad habits and developing good ones.” — Emile Sorger, The Yoga and Movement Sanctuary

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly—here’s how: