If you’re like me, you’ve been doing the yoga thing for quite some time. You don’t feel like a beginner anymore (thank goodness), but you’ve placed yourself squarely in the “intermediate” category. That headstand is still very elusive, but you feel you’ve finally given up your detestation of downward dog. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not making any yoga mistakes, either.
I’m not (yet) a certified instructor, but after talking with many at Flow and elsewhere, I’ve accumulated a list of yoga mistakes. These are things yogis are doing (or not doing), usually subconsciously, that are keeping them from achieving their ultimate yoga super powers. Being mindful of these things might just help you move to that next level that has been eluding you. These are solely my opinions and observations and are in no way medical advice. You may disagree with me, and that’s fine. As always in yoga: Everything is a suggestion.
1. Don’t keep your core tight
I’m guilty of this. Case in point, my elusive pose is Crow. I can get into the pose, I just cannot get more than one foot off the ground. “It’s ALL CORE,” my instructor Danielle keeps telling me, “By the time we get to Crow your abs should be BURNING!” Core strength is key to yoga, and actually most things in life. If you don’t have a solid base, the house is going to crumble. In order to get to your personal next level in yoga, you have to keep your gut tight all through class, not just during the difficult poses. If you’re like me and forget to do so, set your intention at the beginning of class that whenever you feel your mind wandering you’ll snap it back to your abs. Before you know it, this will be second nature, and you’ll be on the fast track to headstand.
2. Eschew props
I get it. Props are not sexy. During my first few yoga classes, I was hesitant when taking blocks off the shelves. One day, I saw an older man remove eight — yes, EIGHT — blocks off the shelf. When we got to Pyramid pose, he unashamedly stacked up four blocks on either side of his extended foot and went to town. Same with triangle. He stacked up three blocks and used them as balance for his floor facing hand. That was almost two years ago. That man recently celebrated his 95th birthday and he is down to two blocks. Props don’t make you the “uncool kid.” I will probably always need a block for triangle. I feel like I’m getting more out of the pose with a block. It feels better. Yoga is about feeling good. If you need a block, get a block; or a bolster, or a strap.
3. Come to class in the wrong gear
I wore a baggy T-shirt to one of my first classes at Flow Yoga. A half an hour into the class the instructor came over and said: “You’d better take that off, you look like you’re about to pass out!” I’m not a thin person. The idea of doing the rest of the class in just my sports bra was terrifying. I avoided it for as long as I could, but finally I couldn’t take it anymore. The rest of that class was amazing, and I went out the next day and invested in some form-fitting tank tops. I promise you, no one is judging your bulges, your wiggles and jiggles, or your “Dad bod.” As yogis we are all at class for the same purpose: to feel good. Finding out what works for you and your body is a tedious process, and what works for me, might not work for you. Yoga class is the best place to try out new gear as we are the least judgemental folks you’ll ever meet.
4. Never ask questions
I may always be the kid in the front of the class, but I’m not the one who always has her hand raised. My first few yoga classes, I couldn’t understand why some people would pull the instructor aside after class to ask a question. Wasn’t the answer obvious during class? But after several more classes, I found my mind wandering, and a minute later everyone else was in a pose that I had no clue how to get into. I was forced to ask. After class, the instructor came up to me and said: “I’m glad you asked how to get into that pose, it can really strain your back if you don’t get into it carefully.” Non-yogis often have this illusion that yoga is simple. The rest of us know the truth. Paying to participate at Flow Yoga means camaraderie, ever-changing classes and routines, and certified instructors to help with modifications, help avoid injury, and answer questions.
5. Refuse to try a new/difficult pose
There are days when I’m just not feeling the yoga groove. The instructor calls for Warrior III and I think: “Yeah, that’s not happening today.” That’s a completely different mentality than: “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen EVER.” I felt that way about MANY poses before I tried them. Side plank, half moon, fire log, my list could go on. But telling yourself that something is never going to happen is like shooting yourself in the foot when you’re already half-way up the mountain. Set your intention to try something new at least one class per month and follow through. TRY to get up off your knee in side plank. TRY to jump through to your seat from Down Dog. Just TRY setting up for Crow. Here’s an analogy: squirrels and chipmunks have tiny brains and poor memory, which limits them to finding and eating only about 20% of the nuts that they hide. So while squirrels may only find 20% of the nuts they bury, if they never went looking for them, they’d starve. As yogis, we hope to achieve way more than 20% of the poses we attempt, but if you never even attempt the hard or elusive poses, you’re essentially starving your practice. Keep applying the mentality that made you begin your yoga journey to the speed bumps and potholes along the way that come in the form of difficult poses.
For people like me, wanting to expand your yoga practice is an ongoing quest. When I started, I could just barely touch my toes, now my frog and butterfly poses are the envy of many instructors. I agree with the philosophy that yoga is a journey with no destination. There’s always somewhere new to go. Coveting the headstand is a goal that is achievable to all yogis with time, patience, and a lot of practice. And remember, young squirrel, you will never find any of the nuts you don’t bother to look for.
— Julie Waineo