In most cases, there’s plenty to do when it comes to fine tuning our yoga practice. We could lift a little more here, engage a bit more over there, and bring more awareness to our breath while we do all of it. But sometimes it’s easier to just identify what looks “off” and find out how we can correct it quickly. Taking things one step at a time with the intention of eventually painting a full picture is much more satisfying than just trying to fix everything all at once. The “fix-it-all-now” strategy is demoralizing and you rarely feel the same sense of accomplishment. It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you start somewhere! How about here: some of the most commonly incorrect poses in a typical class.
1) Downward Facing Dog.
It’s easier to “dump” the weight forward because it takes the work out of the back and hamstrings, but when we lean too far forward, the wrists can strain, the spine compresses, and the rhythm of breath isn’t as fluid. Instead, be sure to elongate the hamstrings by pressing back through the heels, tilting the pelvis up, and press the floor away with the hands to elongate the spine. Also, let’s nip this in the bud once and for all: your heels do NOT have to touch the floor for this pose to be “correct.” There, I said it!
2) Chatturanga Dandasana.
Ahh, much easier to pitch the hips up and dip the chest down, but it won’t do you any favors! Dipping the shoulders below the elbows can spell injury if we don’t correct it. It’s important to keep the chest moving slightly forward so that as you lower, the triceps can support you on the way down. Drawing the belly back and slightly elongating the tailbone towards the heels will keep the integrity of your posture as well as give you more control on the descent. Remember: you’re not doing a regular push-up. Keep those elbows in so they graze the ribs on the way down. And hey– if this is a little to much for now, keep that form, but drop the knees to the floor for extra support.
3) Standing Forward Fold.
One of the most common mistakes I see in yoga classes is trying to fold from the waist. This will definitely compress the discs in the spine as well as limit your breath which will make you more prone to injury. Instead, fold from the crease in the hips and keep a slight bend in the knees if your hamstrings are highly restricted. It doesn’t matter how far down you can fold, but how intact you can keep the posture.
4) Upward Facing Dog.
The bottom picture shows pushing in to the floor and letting the shoulders hike up towards the ears, dropping the head backwards, and the torso is just along for the ride; the musculature through the back and abs aren’t really working. Instead, as you press the floor away, imagine bringing the sternum up towards the sky and keep the neck neutral. Kick in to the tops of the feet to engage the quads and keep the belly drawing back slightly. Think of this more as a chest opener than a backbend (it’s both, but there’s no need to exaggerate the bend backwards just for the sake of contortion). You want this pose to feel strong and empowered, not limp and heavy!
5) Revolved Chair.
I just love this pose. I do it often but even I have to catch myself with some tweaks almost every time! It makes the twist feel easier to let the pelvis fall out of symmetry and pop one knee in front of the other. But don’t fall in to temptation! Keep the hips level, keep the knees in the same line, and twist lightly through the center. Everyone will have different depths to which they can twist, so don’t take this as the single “correct” look. One thing that helps me get the most out of this is to drop my butt nice and low while maintaining that form.
A quick important note: Alignment is extremely important for keeping your practice safe and sustainable, and many cues hold true for any body. But remember that because every body is different, and the exact shape you take in a pose will often look different from any “standard” picture out there. Keep safety a priority, and always be open to the possibilities of your own individual anatomy.
Q: What poses do you find are often in need of adjustment?