Whether it’s your first time on the mat, or you’re a self-taught beginner, there are some things that are hard to understand if you are following pictures in a book, or even a video. There are some important pointers that will form the basis of your practice, and allow you to progress both safely and with greater ease.
FOLLOW YOUR BODY
Go to your own limit in the posture, holding where you feel a good stretch and/or your body working, but don’t feel pain, strain or fatigue. The instructions and pictures of yoga postures are the goal, not the starting point. Explore positions and alignment to make the posture work for your body.
You can make your yoga practice as challenging and vigorous as you want. Start slowly and make sure you understand the alignment of postures, once you fully understand the posture and your body you can increase the intensity of your practice in three ways, you can:
- Hold poses for longer and longer periods of time
- Slowly build your practice up to more advanced and challenging poses
- Move more quickly between poses
It cannot be stressed enough how important relaxation is, if a muscle is tensed it will not extend to it’s fullest capacity. Yoga is based on the holding of postures, rather than the change between them.
Savasana is the classic relaxation pose, it may look like the easiest pose, however, it can be the hardest to accomplish well.
Whatever pose you are doing, always pay attention to your foundations, these are what are holding you up, and mistakes here can make all the difference in the rest of the pose.
Follow these tips for a good foundation, which will create better balance
Follow these tips to avoid wrist pain
Every asana uses opposing forces to maximize its benefit. A sequence or ‘flow’ also uses these principles in that it is designed to both bend and stretch your entire body, evenly on both sides.
Hyperextension (over-extension) of joints is chronic in the yoga world. It is common to see models and even teachers demonstrate a beautiful asana with hyperextended knees or elbows. Hyperextending the knees or elbows misdirects the forces that create the form of the asana, it puts pressure on your joints rather than using your muscles to hold a pose. Always remember, it’s better to very slightly bend your knees or elbows than to push back into the joint. Keeping a slight bend (so tiny it’s invisible from the outside but you can feel the difference) will engage the muscles you should be using, supporting your joints and avoiding hyperextension.
To establish whether you hyperextend stand in a normal standing position with your profile towards the mirror. If your leg forms a straight line from ankle to hip, you are not hyperextending. If the leg curves back, you are hyperextending.
The only way your yoga will improve is with practice, there’s no point thinking you can’t do something if it seems out of reach on the first try. All those beautiful poses you see pictures of, or watch your teacher do, took practice, and a lot of it. Over time your body naturally becomes more flexible and stronger. As mentioned before, you should not be pushing yourself into positions that hurt, simply go to the limit of what your body allows, and with repeated practice your body will naturally go further over time. Keeping a regular practice will allow you to gain all the benefits from yoga, do not expect to get the same benefits from irregular practice.