Yoga mistake #1: Not communicating with the teacher
When you are new to yoga it is hard to know what information you might need to give your instructor but always opt for more information rather than less. Things such as ‘I get shoulder pain’ or ‘I’ve been really low today’ might seem insignificant but if you let your teacher know when they might be able to offer you some variations and adjustments to assist your shoulder back to health or to lift your spirits.
HOT TIP: If you are going to a new teacher, get to class early and let them know if anything is going on for you physically or emotionally. Do the same if you have a recent injury and check in with them regularly to keep it fresh in their mind – your teacher does see a lot of people each week so it can be hard for them to remember every injury.
Yoga mistake #2: Looking around the room
Presumably you came to yoga for some personal reason, such as to increase strength, relaxation or flexibility - not to watch other people doing poses. By looking at other people or other things, you are taking the focus away from your own practice and subconsciously comparing yourself to other people who might have been doing yoga for a lot longer than you. By trying to mimic what they are doing you are putting yourself at risk - how do you know they are doing it right anyway?
HOT TIP Position yourself somewhere in the room where you are free from distraction. If you ever find yourself looking around the room, bring your focus back to your breath and your body.
Yoga mistake #3: Stretch! Stretch! Stretch!
The common perception of yoga from those who haven’t done a lot of it is that yoga just involves a lot of stretching and that the goal is to get more flexible. While yoga will help your flexibility it is important to know what we don’t all want to just stretch endlessly. Even the most flexible people need strength to support their flexibility. So we use core strength, all the time. The body is much more likely to open up when it feels supported, and by engaging the core your body can more freely relax in other areas.
HOT TIP Engage your pelvic floor and keep it engaged as you move in and out of positions. After a while it will become second nature.
Yoga mistake #4: Breathing through the mouth
This is probably the most common mistake I see with newcomers yet it probably sounds like the easiest one. In yoga we breathe through the nose, in through the nose AND out through the nose. We try to have long, controlled inhales and equally as long and controlled exhales. This is about conserving energy and keeping the heart rate down. When we breathe through the mouth we are expelling carbon dioxide too quickly and we are also sending the body in to stress mode which increases the heart rate.
HOT TIP By focusing more on your breath you will also be able to tune in to your body. Usually you’ll know that you are pushing too far if you can’t breathe fully, are holding the breath or start gasping for air through the mouth. This is the time to take a step back and come to a position where you can breathe more comfortably - for example, child's pose (or balasana).
Yoga mistake #5: Rushing through poses
In yoga the way we place ourselves into positions is just as important as the positions themselves. It is important not to rush in to the final position. Take your time, feel your way and enjoy the process of getting there as opposed to needing to be there in a hurry. By getting in and out of a pose the correct way we are protecting ourselves from injury and also allowing ourselves the full juiciness of the position.
HOT TIP Listen to what your teacher is saying and do what they say, as they say it. When you are in a pose try to be there mentally instead of wishing you were doing something else – this will remove the urgency to release the pose in a hurry.
Nadia Rihani is a yoga instructor and Director of Yoga Village Potts Point, Sydney. Nadia first discovered yoga when she finished university and used her daily practice as a way to escape the pressures of a corporate job. Nadia believes that our main limitations are mental, not physical and that regular yoga practice will bring freedom to mind and body.