By K. Aleisha Fetters for Fitbie
Yoga's an everywoman activity, but just because anyone with a mat and a will can bust some yoga moves, doesn't mean you're doing it right -- or getting the most out of your hour.
"When you practice yoga on autopilot, not looking at your mistakes and working to correct them, your form and awareness suffer, reducing your practice's benefit and increasing your risk of injury," says yoga expert Kimberly Fowler, author of Flat Belly Yoga! and founder of YAS Fitness Centers. And we aren't just talking newbies here. "Yoga is a practice. You never achieve perfection," she explains. "The goal is to constantly improve."
So whether you're a beginner or experienced yogi, chances are that your practice can benefit from some fine-tuning. Fowler suggests you start by watching out for these 10 common yoga mistakes.
1. Holding Your Breath
Breathing -- something that you typically do without giving it a thought -- can feel anything but automatic during a challenging pose. But without constant breath, your muscle fibers don't get the oxygen they need to fire, support your body weight, and bend at will. The result: wobbly limbs and -- if you're in a balance pose -- falls, Fowler says. And little chest raises won't cut it. You want to go for full-belly breaths: Inhale through your nose so you feel cool air hit the back of your throat and your stomach expands with air. Then slowly exhale through your mouth until you feel your lungs are empty.
2. Pushing Too Hard
"No pain no gain doesn't apply to yoga," says Fowler, who notes that most people -- if they're really being honest with themselves -- know when they're pushing themselves too hard. While in some exercise classes and sports you want your muscles to cry uncle, the exact opposite is true in yoga. It's a sign you're on the fast track to muscle strains and injury. Yoga should never feel painful. If it starts to, back off. Yoga is all about awareness, about listening to your body's subtle signals, and responding accordingly.
3. Comparing Yourself To Others
Every class has that one super-flexible yogi who seems to effortlessly master every move -- and who has a core you could bounce a quarter off of. Fight the urge to compare and get down on yourself. If you get tripped up measuring yourself against everyone else in the class, not only will you get a crick in your neck, you'll get a crimp in your fun. You'll likely become frustrated and maybe even convince yourself that yoga isn't for you. Wrong! Fowler stresses that yoga is for everyone, and your personal yoga practice isn't about anyone but you. "Every body is different, and yoga is about treating your individual body," she says.
4. Picking The Wrong Spot In Class
Place your mat wisely. Where's that, exactly? Near the back of the class. "People think they need to be in front so they can see the instructor, but much of the time the instructor is moving around and helping people correct their form, so you're left at the head of the class and can't see what you're supposed to do," Fowler explains. Try the next-to-back row. Since some moves require facing the back of the room, this spot will guarantee you always have someone you can follow without looking over to the side and sacrificing your form.
5. Coming To Class With A Full Stomach
Yoga studios should have signs that read: No food babies allowed. Why? When you have a full stomach, not only are most yoga poses uncomfortable, but blood supply is funneled to your stomach to process the nutrients from your food, leaving your muscles shortchanged on the energy they need for a successful practice. Still, pre-class eaters have one thing right: food is fuel. The key to benefitting from that fuel is keeping the portion size down and eating about an hour before class, Fowler says. That way, your blood has time to head to your stomach, pick up the nutrients, and deliver them to your muscles before you strike your first pose. Try a banana with peanut butter or a handful of nuts along with a piece of toast. The combo of protein and carbs will give you the energy jolt you need while keeping your blood sugar from crashing mid-pose.