Maybe you tried yoga, but it just didn’t do much for you. Or maybe you do enjoy yoga, yet aren’t getting the maximum benefits from it… or have even wound up injured.
The likely problem: Your body is not properly aligned as you practice the poses. Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist with Duke Integrative Medicine and author of Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain, outlined the most common yoga mistakes and how to correct them…
Don’t lift up your chin — doing so crunches the back of the neck. Do: When instructed to “stand tall,” think of lifting up from the top of your head or the tops of your ears so that your chin is parallel to the ground and the back of your neck lengthens.
Don’t cup your hands in postures done with palms on the floor (such as Cat pose or Downward Facing Dog). This can create an imbalance in the arms and cause the posture to collapse. Do: Fan out your fingers and distribute your weight evenly through your entire hand.
Don’t lift your shoulders when raising your arms, which can create tension in the neck and shoulders. Do: Draw your shoulder blades down your back whenever arms are lifted.
Don’t grip the mat tightly with your toes in standing poses — a “death grip” suggests that your weight is too far forward, which can unevenly stress muscles and joints and compromise balance. Do: Lift and spread your toes, then let them lengthen and relax on the floor… and shift your weight back into your heels.
Don’t sit with a rounded back. Our chair-based culture leaves many people with tight, inflexible hips and legs, which can make it difficult to sit up tall when cross-legged on the floor… or to maintain good posture at any time. Do: Elevate your pelvis by sitting on a folded blanket or cushion if your knees are higher than your hips when you’re sitting cross-legged. This makes it easier to keep your back straight.
Don’t sit on your sacrum. Sitting on this triangular-shaped bone at the base of the spine (just above the tailbone) causes the back to round and the chest to collapse… which, in turn, can interfere with proper breathing, circulation and digestion and also lead to back pain. Do: Move the flesh of your buttocks aside to find the two “sit bones” at the bottom of the pelvis… then sit on them, dropping your weight down into your pelvis as you lengthen up from the spine all the way through the top of your head.
Don’t drop your head out of line with the spine. This tends to happen in standing poses that involve side bending, such as Triangle and Half Moon, and it can compromise balance and lead to upper-body pain. Do: Remember that your neck is part of your spine (in fact, its formal name is the “cervical spine”) and keep it in line.
Don’t look down. Energy follows your gaze, so if you look down — particularly during balancing postures — you are likely to totter or even fall down. Do: For standing and sitting postures, unless your instructor directs otherwise, gaze softly at the horizon.
Your rewards: Being mindful of proper alignment allows you to experience yoga’s benefits to the fullest, said Krucoff — including a stronger, more flexible body… calmer, more peaceful mind… and brighter, happier mood.