November 10, 2013

10 Things to Stop Doing in Your Yoga Practice.

Relephant reads: Solo Yoga is Essential: 8 Alone-Time Practice Tips.

“Things to stop doing” might be a little bit harsh, but the following ten tips are definitely worth giving a shot.

Let’s dive right in: things you should stop doing in your yoga practice—right now.

1. Going into forward folds after backbends.

This is merely a suggestion. I don’t think it’s necessarily taboo to practice forward folds after backbending—as long as you practice the proper spinal neutralizing poses, such as reclined bound angle pose, in between.

On the other hand, I think if you have an intense need to fold forward after bending backwards, then your body is likely telling you that you went too far into your backbend or, at the very least, that you didn’t lengthen through your lower back enough.

I don’t want to go in depth on this subject, but I would like to recommend that after a practice of backbending postures, you allow your body to retain this experience by not immediately counteracting it with a forward fold.

Instead, practice twisting postures or side bends, or just lie on your back and use a strap to  stretch your warm hamstrings—the latter not only neutralizes your spine efficiently but it’s also nice to have the full length of your spine on the ground after backbending poses like full wheel.

Additionally, as previously mentioned, your hamstrings work hard during backbends, so digging into their flexibility can be a deliciously genuine reward.

2. Overusing your quadriceps.

During bridge pose, for example, you should be using—and teaching your students to use—the hamstring muscles.

Example two: does chair pose make your quads cry? You’re probably not engaging your hamstrings, glutes and inner thighs enough.

Does high lunge makes your quads burn? Focus more on lifting up from your hamstrings.

In short, quit making your quadriceps your body’s work horse in too many of your yoga postures. (They—and the rest of your body that gains strength—will thank you.)

3. Saying negative things to your students while pretending that they’re positive affirmations.

Let it go, leave behind your to-do list, check your baggage at the door, stop telling yourself that you’re not doing your pose well enough—you get the picture. That frustrating conversation I had yesterday? I forgot all about it until you told me to “let it go.”

Merely consider that not all students think negative thoughts during class or, moreover, that the best way to help students “let go” is by guiding them in a different—and more positive—direction with your words and cues.

4. Saying negative things in your head.

I sincerely don’t get down on myself on my yoga mat. Why? I’ll tell you.

I believe that I can try to attempt anything. Success and failure are relative terms and, I don’t know about you, but I enjoy my practice a lot more since I’ve developed a can-do attitude. However, you have to be okay with failure—and that’s an entirely separate animal.

I suggest that you start by offering yourself opportunities to grow and try new things. Focus on moving one breath at a time while allowing your body to really feel the sensations of your practice and your pose rather than moving mentally ahead towards the final outcome. If you do this, you’ll discover that you place less importance on how your postures and your practice end up because you’re enjoying the process so much.

5. Playing or listening to music constantly.

I love music. I love music a lot. Still, there comes a point when a teacher or a student can rely too heavily on what’s being played in the background.

If you’re at home, try moving through ten minutes of sun salutes with nothing more than the sound of your breath as a backdrop. If you’re a teacher, play around with pausing the music and letting your students hold their space in that silence—and when you do press play your music will have a much deeper impact.

6. Reciting catch phrases.

If you’re not exactly sure what something means, but you’ve heard other teachers say it over and over and it sounds cool, then do everyone a favor and don’t recite it in your classes. Be authentic.

Sometimes being authentic means using ordinary words and concepts and—here’s the surprise bonus—you’ll find that your students appreciate this. They appreciate your realness and your honoring of the knowledge that you do possess rather than pretending you’re someone who you’re not.

7. Incorrectly pronouncing vertebra.

Yeah, this one’s just a pet peeve of mine. Telling your students to roll up one “vertebrae” at a time is nonsensical because vertebra—bruh—is the singular. I digress…

8. Pretending that yoga class can’t be fun, funny or an all-around good time.

Okay, you didn’t think my “serious yogi” article was funny. Fine. At the same time, there are plenty of us who spend our lives working hard—and generally walking our talk—while simultaneously having a little bit of fun.

Is life always fun? Of course not. On the other hand, you’re kidding yourself—and you’re sadly missing out—if you think that personal growth can’t involve some giggles and grins along the way.

9. Looking at ads in Yoga Journal to learn good form.

This one is another pet peeve of mine: the pretty lady in her cute yoga pants practicing tree pose—with her foot completely pressed into her knee.

That hot model selling expensive dietary supplements—practicing cobra pose with her neck all wonky and her pubic bone totally lifted off of the ground.

Point: don’t look at advertisements or pictures of models (who might not even have been in one yoga class in her entire life) in order to learn proper form—that’s what yoga classes are for.

10. Comparing.

I’m not talking about comparing yourself to the gorgeous yogi next to you either—I’m talking about comparing yourself with, well, yourself.

It’s unfair to step onto your mat and expect to do today what you did yesterday. Actually, it’s more than unfair it’s laziness.

Catering to our all-American, push-through-it-and-do-better-than-everyone-else-and-climb-to-the-top mentality only serves to foster it. Having a regular yoga practice can be liberating in that the only thing you have to be is who you already are, in this moment, right now.

So respect who and what you’re bringing to your practice each and every time, as well as the fact that you’ve shown up—and then leave it at that.

Yoga has become a very judgmental and holier-than-thou field of practice, which truly saddens me because it doesn’t have to be this way.

I receive messages more frequently than I’d like from readers who haven’t found a welcoming community. It makes me feel so lucky and blessed to have found a yoga community that embraces trial and error and practices love and kindness, but it also makes me upset that people continually insist on pushing their own inner discrimination on others and then wrongly label it being a “real yogi.”

And my biggest suggestion to you? If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. Keep on trying new shoes.

“If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?” ~ Gloria Steinem


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Editor: Bryonie Wise



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Monique Jones Nov 15, 2013 5:31pm

Hi Jennifer,

Thank you so much for sharing so passionately those ideas with us yoga teachers and yoga practitioners. I am a brand new yoga teacher and I have a question regarding not overusing the quadriceps. A lot of people in classes have a hard time distinguishing the use of the gluteus muscles versus the hamstrings and also as you mention overuse their quadriceps. Any suggestions on teaching a balance between these muscles would be really useful and appreciated. Thank you so much

Liz Nov 11, 2013 2:56pm

Thank you for correcting to the singular: vertebra.
Another pet peeve: telling the class to 'lay' down on the mat. Lay is a transitive verb requiring an object i.e. Lay your body down on the mat.
Should be: Lie down on the mat. 'Lie' is intransitive meaning the action is done to the subject.
I imagine this only irks those of us who care about proper grammar :))

moondancerdiaries Nov 10, 2013 11:57pm

Thank you for this! I love number 3 – soooo true!

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Jennifer S. White

Jennifer S. White is a voracious reader, obsessive writer, passionate yoga instructor and drinker of hoppy ales. She’s also a devoted mama and wife (a stay-at-home yogi). She considers herself to be one of the funniest people who ever lived and she’s also an identical twin. In addition to her work on elephant journal, Jennifer has over 40 articles published on the wellness website MindBodyGreen and her yoga-themed column Your Personal Yogi ran in the newspaper Toledo Free Press. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in geology, absolutely no degrees in anything related to literature, and she currently owns a wheel of cheese. If you want to learn more about Jennifer, make sure to check out her writing, as she’s finally put her tendencies to over-think and over-share to good use. Jennifer is the author of The Best Day of Your Life, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She’s also as excited as a five year old to announce the release of her second book, The Art of Parenting: Love Letters from a Mother, available on Amazon.