Before getting into what we might do “wrong” in yoga, let’s agree that yoga isn’t always about doing things “right.” Sure, the ancient practice has tenets for proper living. But it’s also about self-discovery and using what we learn to evolve (perhaps to eventually find we’ve made habits of those good-life guidelines).
In the West, yoga is mostly physical, though. And if I’m being honest, it’s my FAVORITE way to get physical. To that end, one could argue that there are “right” and “wrong” ways to do asanas, or postures, so that we don’t get hurt—though a master yoga teacher once told me that injury is a teacher all on its own.
That said, a few helpful tips can take your practice to a new level, especially if you’ve been doing the same ol’ same ol’ in a not-so-helpful way.
1. You lock your knees.
This can happen in any standing pose that calls for “straight” legs: Mountain, Triangle, Half Moon and so on. Maintain a bit of bend in your standing leg. It’s much healthier for your joints if you aren’t constantly and extremely compressing them.
The fix: Bend your knees (obviously). One way to prompt that is by pressing into the balls of your feet, particularly in poses such as Triangle.
2. You dump weight into the outer edges of your hands.
This habit is most common in ubiquitous Downward-Facing Dog. Without conscious effort, the pinkies and outer edges of the palms are the most accessible parts of the hand in the pose. But bearing weight mostly in those spots isn’t ideal and can lead to wrist pain. Here’s why: Each forearm has two long bones, which run elbow to wrist. The ulna, on the pinky side, is narrow at the wrist. The radius, on the thumb side, is relatively wider at the wrist.
The fix: Press more into your thumbs and index fingers. Press through all your knuckles, as well. Create these actions in a way that slightly lifts the center of your palms, allowing you to draw strength up through the arms.
3. Your feet always touch when they are next to each other.
Lots of yoga teachers and several yoga lineages call for the big toes or inner edges of the feet to touch in Mountain and Chair poses. It’s not always a good idea though. Spread those tootsies apart, and don’t be married to your toes pointing straight ahead. It’s more important to have your knees under your hips, and let your feet land where they may. Everyone’s anatomy is different. Movement generation in successive joints should start closest to your core. In this case that means your hips, which have the greatest range of motion. Next is your knees. Then your ankles. Don’t work backwards.
The fix: Stand normally, and then lightly hop. Notice where your feet land. That’s where you want them and how you want them to point.
4. You fold forward like a candy cane.
We curve forward most of the time as it is, sitting at tables, working at counters, looking at cell phones. The list goes on. Don’t take this a step further, rounding your lower back as you bend forward. Do your vertebrae and intervertebral discs a favor: Aspire to maintain your spine’s natural curve in your Forward Fold. You’ll still stretch your back-side body.
The fix: Bend your knees a little, send your tush behind a bit, and tilt your pelvis forward. Now fold, hinging from your hips. Your back will naturally round some—but you won’t be hinging from your lower back.
5. You drop all your weight into your feet.
This one won’t injure you. But if you learn to create a Foot Lock, Pada Bandha, in standing poses, you will stabilize your legs and make them more powerful. The action of pressing down through your soles will spur a lifting upward through the rest of your body.
The fix: Press down through the balls of your feet, your heels and the outer edges of your feet. Keep your toes light and free. Feel a slight lift in your arches, and notice the engagement of your thigh muscles.