The New Year sparks a flurry of new students trying yoga for the first time and others who have done it before but are wanting to make it a bigger part of their lives. We love all the action the new year brings to both our in-person and online classes. Starting something new can be intimidating and confusing. Here are a few tips for new students and some great reminders to yoga veterans about different mistakes to avoid when doing yoga.
5 Mistakes To Avoid When Doing Yoga
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Most of us are competitive in nature. Our culture values winning and encourages us to be #1 by any means necessary. We can tell you all day long to stop comparing yourself to others and forget about competition in yoga but unfortunately it’s deeply ingrained into who we are.
Another unfortunate issue is that yoga is part of a wellness industry that constantly espouses the contradicting messages of “you are perfect just the way you are” but “you’ll be even better if you buy this product/service/program that I’m selling!”
We go into yoga with these messages playing unconsciously in our minds. This conditioning makes it difficult to be at peace during class. No matter what there will always be someone stronger and more flexible than you are. Maybe they grew up dancing or doing gymnastics and the poses come effortlessly to them. Comparing yourself to other students in the room is disruptive to the benefits that you came for.
It’s impossible to snap your fingers and immediately transcend the feelings of inadequacy we get when comparing ourselves to others. It’s discouraging and may kill the motivation to come to class. The first step in dissolving this mindset is to be aware of it. If you’re experiencing difficulty with something and the person next to you is just flying through it, observe the flare of judgment or other negative emotions and keep breathing deeply. Let it pass through without jumping aboard. It might not work the first few times but if you train the mind to let the feeling pass, you’re on your way to a more peaceful experience.
Developing an awareness of our tendencies and reactivity is one of the mental and emotional benefits of yoga. Comparing ourselves to others is a normal human trait and happens in a variety of settings such as work, with friends and with family members. When we do it during yoga it’s actually a gift. We get to notice it, breathe through it and let it go. Over time your mindset will shift and you’ll find yourself doing it less and less.
Don’t Strain, Force or Push
If you can’t breathe deeply while doing it, then don’t do it! These are the words of wisdom that should be playing over and over in your head during a yoga class. You will not be able to maintain a deep rhythm of breath if you’re straining or forcing the body. If your breath flow gets interrupted when you’re attempting something that is difficult, this is a sign to back off or rest.
Pushing the body into a yoga position is never a good idea. First of all, you can easily get hurt. There are many yoga postures that are inaccessible to the majority of the population. The physically strenuous practice that is popular today was originally created for young adolescent boys. We love a good sweaty and challenging vinyasa flow class, but only if the breath is deep and steady.
You’re not necessarily going to be able to do every single thing in class. That competitive nature we all carry within us likes to pop its little head out and say “come on wuss, push up into that backbend. The girl next to you is doing it, that means you need to do it too or you’re a yoga failure.” Notice these thoughts and just breathe on through them. It doesn’t happen over night, but with consistency we can change our inner dialogue with attention and awareness.
Sometimes students push or strain because they think they are supposed to. The thought process is along the lines of “well the teacher said to do it so I’m going to do it at all costs.” Yoga teachers are not dance teachers or football coaches. We aren’t going to shove you down into the splits and we don’t care if you can’t do the inversion or deep backbend we include in our class. You are in charge of your own body.
The teacher may not have their direct attention on you and can’t always be right by your side making sure you’re not going to hurt yourself. Take responsibility for your own body and don’t just do something because the teacher told you to. Be patient and kind with yourself. Progression will naturally occur over time. Just let it happen by showing up to class and focusing on your breath.
In yoga, the breath is your number one focus. If you’re new to yoga, the deep nose breathing might be unfamiliar and difficult at first. This is normal and perfectly fine. However cultivating the ability to breathe deeply through the nose should be a higher priority than mastering the poses. I had a teacher that used to say “postures without breath is just eastern calisthenics.”
It’s not just newbies that aren’t breathing in class. Some students do yoga so often that it’s easy for them to just “phone it in.” They go on auto pilot with the flows and postures and once the class is done they can mentally check off that they did yoga that day. But the benefit is no where near the same for the body and especially the mind when we aren’t breathing deeply and consistently.
It’s up to you as a student to keep your mental focus on the breath. Constantly wrangle your attention back to the inhale and exhale. We are used to constant stimulation and at first the breath is not nearly as captivating as instagram or a great movie. But after consistent practice, the high you get from deep ujjayi breath for an hour straight will be enough to keep you coming back for more.
We also recommend finding a teacher that is constantly cueing the breath. I have been to many yoga classes where there is barely any mention of the breath at all. The teacher is so preoccupied with teaching alignment and/or their sequence that they forget about the most important ingredient. Breath is king and queen of your yoga practice. Bow down to it and let it guide your every move, both in and out of the yoga room.
Don’t Skip Savasana
Savasana is the final resting pose at the end of class. We lie flat on our backs or supported with props. The body is still, the eyes are closed and the breath is natural. Most people really love it but for some people it’s complete and utter torture.
I have seen many people struggle with savasana. They say things like “but I have better things I could be doing,” “I can’t relax,” “it’s not comfortable for me” or “my mind won’t stop racing.” These are all normal feelings and you’re not alone.
Props Can Make Savasana More Comfortable
If savasana is physically uncomfortable there are a few easy fixes. Sometimes lying flat irritates the lower back. The fix for this is to slide a bolster or a rolled up blanket underneath the knees. Not all studios provide props so in that case bend the knees, step the feet wide and let the knees rest against each other. If corpse pose gives you neck discomfort, place a folded blanket underneath your head to lengthen the sides and the back of the neck. Sometimes these remedies don’t work so ask your yoga instructor for some help. She or he will be able to help you find a comfortable position for final resting pose.
If savasana is challenging for you mentally, then I encourage you to just deal with it. Lie there with your eyes bulging and teeth clenched. We are so used to completing tasks all day that just lying on the ground literally doing nothing is an unfathomable activity for us and makes it impossible to relax.
This is your chance to learn how to chill the F out. Feel each inch of the body relax as you mentally scan your way from the tips of the toes to the crown of the head. This progressive and gradual relaxation not only gives you something to do, but will release some of the unconscious tension that we all habitually hold in the body.
If you have to leave class early, get up before savasana starts. Quietly gather your things and dip out without a peep. Try not to disrupt the chill vibe in the room when everyone is resting.
Once Class Starts, Focus On Yourself
If you come to class at Buddhi Yoga you’ll see that very often the teacher has to quiet the class down in order to get started. Everyone is talking to each other and the room is loud and boisterous. People genuinely make friends at our studio and it spreads like wildfire through our community. If you come to Buddhi, we can almost guarantee that you will meet new people of all ages.
Once class starts it’s time to be quiet and keep your attention on your own mat. If you bring a friend to class and you have the urge to help them if they’re struggling, zip your lips. It’s distracting to others when students try to instruct other students during class and super irritating to the teacher. Just let them have their own experience and keep your attention on your own body and your own breath.
If you have a burning question during class, wait until the end to ask the teacher. Take the time during class to soften, relax and breathe. It’s okay if you forget what you wanted to ask by the time savasana is over. It will come back to you if it was important.
Be Patient and Enjoy the Ride
Yoga is an ongoing process that ebbs and flows. You will inevitably feel progression in your strength, flexibility, breath control and even mind control. Let it unfold naturally, all you need to do is show up for class as often as possible. Yoga can be a lifelong practice with no real goals or hierarchy. You don’t need to graduate to the more physically challenging classes as a measure of success.
We have plenty of students that stay in our slow flow classes forever. These are often also the people that come the most and have the most advanced practice if you’re measuring “advanced” by quality of breath and attention. They may not be able to do a handstand in the middle of the room but they experience that sense of peace and neutrality that comes with a consistent yoga practice.
So savor the evolution and stick to the above tips to make the journey a little smoother. We love to answer questions so please feel free to email us or if you’re a local San Diegan come on down to Buddhi Yoga and take class with us. If you want to take class with us from home, try our live classes and do yoga with us in real time or take one of our on-demand classes.