It’s easy to get into a habit in the way we work out, the way we stretch, the way we do just about anything. It’s no different with yoga. Since the trend of these days is to get in, get sweaty and flow as quickly as possible, I see how many students have gotten off to the wrong start and their bodies habitually perform basic yoga poses with less than absolutely correct form.
Practicing this way for one class or even for a few won’t damage you, but continuing to go through the motions incorrectly may, over time, have negative effects. But I know that when you’re in class, you’re thinking about a million things and it’s easy to let your muscle memory take over whenever possible to make things easier for your brain and body, so the necessary little adjustments don’t get made during your 60-minute practice.
I’m here to help.
I’ve broken down a few basic yoga poses and the corrections I give in my classes so maybe, just maybe, you’ll make me the happiest teacher in the world by practicing these corrections on your own before your next class.
1. Chaturanga Dandasana.
Your low plank should still be one long line of your body from the top of your head to your heels (that includes your butt, too). Pull your hip bones toward your ribs to eliminate as much of the curvature of your low back as possible. Your body should be shifted forward enough that when you lower from high to low plank, your elbows stack as closely over your wrists as possible. I’m still working on that.
Speaking of elbows, don’t do this:
Too often I see people with elbows out too wide as they lower down or they over-correct and wrap elbows all the way under their ribs.
Pull your shoulder blades back and down, feel the biceps and triceps hugging closely in and when you find that right balance you’ll keep shoulder and wrists much happier. Chaturanga is my biggest sticking point as an instructor. It’s an actual pose, not just part of a sequence of high to low plank, upward facing dog to downward facing dog. It’s also one of the most repeated postures of a class, so it’s no wonder we often get stuck forming bad habits with this tricky little transitional pose.
2. Squaring off hips in various postures
This is a tough thing to internalize. When an instructor says “drop your left hip in line with your right,” what does that actually mean and how should that feel? Parsvottanasana (intense leg stretch) and Virabhadrasana III (warrior 3) are examples of yoga poses that can totally change what muscles are working if the hip is in line.
In the first image of Parsvottanasana, the left hip is lifted and the hamstring stretch is not as effective as in the second image. In the second photo, the right knee is bent in order to draw the right hip back, the hamstring stretch is more comprehensive and the right IT band is lengthened.
In warrior 3, the picture on the left shows the left hip lifting, but the picture on the right shows left and right hip in line for more stability and IT band work on the right leg.
3. Triangle pose
Of all yoga poses, this one is my nemesis. I often let myself slide on this one. The best cue I can think of for Trikonasana is to add length on both sides of your rib cage. If your right leg is forward, tuck right hip under and press a lot through the outer edge of your left foot to keep lengthening on both sides. If your hand doesn’t touch the ground with your hip tucked under, use a block before compromising hips or the length of your side body.
4. Wheel pose
When we go upside down it’s very hard to maintain the same sense of body awareness. It takes so much conscious effort to focus on this cue in wheel pose. When students want to go from bridge to wheel, the excitement of a great backbend usually takes over and they often don’t set up from a stable base.
To ensure that your hips stay square in Urdhva Dhanurasana, with your arms set up for wheel, press through all four corners of your feet, toes and knees tracking straight forward, just to the crown of your head first. Then, with your elbows wrapping in, press all the up to full wheel, maintaining the equal press into both feet and legs.
A great tip for practicing wheel on your own is to place a block in between your legs as you press up and hold the posture.
5. One-legged pigeon pose
This pose is a blessing and a curse. One-legged pigeon (Aka Pada Rajakapotasana) can be a real you-know-what to hold for 10+ breaths, which we do in almost every class. By sitting past the hip that’s being stretched and taking the midline of your body off of center, you’re not getting the maximum benefit of the posture. Repeat the thought to yourself, inhale to draw the right hip back, exhale to sink deeper into the pose. Keeping your front foot flexed will protect the knee and let you go deeper into this pose more safely.
As you get deeper into your practice, there’s a lot of alignment to cover! But these five fixes are enough to focus on for now. Happy practicing!