Lifelong Practice: 8 Common Yoga Mistakes & How to Fix Them.

Via Ashley Szlachta
on Mar 21, 2015
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Chatturunga and Asthang Purnam (knees, chest, chin) are the most commonly repeated portion of vinyasa, ashtanga and some hatha yoga classes.

From beginner yogis who have only just heard the word chatturunga for the first time to seasoned flow-ers, we can always use some tips to help improve our practice.

Repetition creates habit, which overtime creates the body and brain composition, and that’s why correct repetition is so important. Most yoga classes don’t spend enough time on one of the most common and complex transitions in the whole practice.

Here are a few classic errors and how to adjust for success:

1. Elbows locked in updog.

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This is the biggest, most painful mistake we can make in a vigorous yoga practice (the pain comes over time). Pay attention to the elbows and knees during yoga practice. Do we have the tendency to allow these hinge joints to lock? Do the elbows ever feel sore after a class? This tendency can be really dangerous if we want to keep a life-long practice.

When we lock our joints, we put ourselves at great risk for hyperextension and eventually a wearing down of the cartilage protecting our bones at the joints. In all poses where arms are straight and weight-bearing, including table top, up dog, down dog, side plank, etc, there should be a micro-bend in the elbow. This keeps the muscles activated to support the body, and we’re not relying heavily on the elbow joint to bear weight.

A note on habits: Our bodies have the tendency to take the easy way out—that is to use less energy in muscle action to get us through. Yoga is here to reverse our bad habits, bring strength and awareness into our bodies and translate that into real life applications.

When we stay aware of this during our practice, our practice can have an immense impact on our lives off the mat.

 

2. Shoulders up by the ears in chatturunga and up-dog.

This is a lazy up-dog habit. The shoulders should be kept back so that the neck is long on all sides throughout the entire transition. When rising to up-dog, the shoulders are reaching for one another way down on the back, scooping the heart forward into a heart-opening expression.

 

3. Butt is too high or too low in the plank.

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Again this comes from bad habit and poor proprioception.

Have a friend observe whether the hips, shoulders and ankles form a straight diagonal line in plank. Keep checking until the muscle memory (and proprioception) is working correctly, and eventually it won’t even need a thought.

 

4. Elbows less than 90 degrees during the transition by either lowering the shoulders directly above the hands or by lowering too far.

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Chatturunga is meant to train the body for most other yoga poses.

The most obvious application of chatturunga is “chatturunga arms” used in a majority of the arm balances. By training the arms to support the body’s weight at 90 degrees, the body becomes ready for some kick-ass bakasana (crow pose), astavakrasana (crooked pose) and titibhasana (firefly).

 

5. Elbows out too far to the sides.

Keep those elbows tucked into the sides against the ribs to create a beautiful support for the body. This is good prep for poses like Ganda Bherundasana (chin stand).

 

6. Hips collapsing onto the floor.

Keep that booty high during your knees/chest/chin transition, and don’t let it drop to ground zero on the updog! If updog is not possible without dropping the hips, it means the body is tired and should stick with ashtang purnam.

It’s better to do more simple postures correctly than go for the big guns and half-ass it.

 

7. Wide feet in cobra.

In down dog the feet are wide, just like a dog. But in cobra the legs squeeze together to create the illusion of a snake—two legs working as one. The energy gets squeezed through those tight legs, supporting the lifting spine, and bursts out through the heart center.

Be careful of the chin sticking out—let the energy really come from the heart and keep the integrity of the neck.

 

8. Legs squeezed together for up dog.

Dogs don’t stand or stretch with their feet together. ‘nuff said.

Here’s to proper, careful repetition in our yoga practices to build muscle, keep joints healthy and prep for some cool yoga party tricks.

 

 

Relephant:

Transitions: The Not-so-Secret Heart of Yoga

Author: Ashley Szlachta

Apprentice Editor: Melissa Scavetta / Editor: Emma Ruffin

Photos: Wikimedia Commons / Author’s own

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About Ashley Szlachta

Ashley Szlachta is an entrepreneurial yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer, massage therapist, environmentalist, and artist. She holds a BS, E-500 RYT, and a NZ Certificate of Therapeutic Massage. She received her first Yoga Teacher Training in the USA in 2010, and the second in Rishikesh, India in 2013. She has been around the world teaching yoga for 5 years, and continues her travels through India to Israel. On her website Nomadic Yoga, she blogs about her travel, yoga and art. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Comments

11 Responses to “Lifelong Practice: 8 Common Yoga Mistakes & How to Fix Them.”

  1. Natasha says:

    These are great observations of common mistakes in a vinyasa, however you didn't offer much in the way of alignment correction! There are so many ways we can address these habits by focusing on things like hand placement, finger/knuckle pressure, energy direction through the heels and crown, using uddiyana bandha, etc. I would love to hear your ideas for cues to give in-class that might help!

  2. Juliana says:

    Love this! I will say that in some styles (e.g., Dharma yoga), down dog is actually performed with the feet together, but that doesn't take away from your points.

  3. namastehon says:

    there are also many wonderful modifications to these poses that help newbies build strength in the right areas so one day the full expression of chaturanga or urdhva mukha svanasana can be performed; but any great teacher should also recognize that these "full" poses may always be out of reach for some due to old injuries, disabilities, or whatever. We should not become yoga nazis….

  4. zomanik says:

    It's not being a yoga nazi if it's correcting form to prevent injury. Though I understand your sentiment. "It's AAUUUMMM not OH-MM…" lol

  5. John says:

    Interesting, most of it pretty uncontroversial, standard stuff. I like the pictures and arrows for chatturanga.

    Some of it is purely personal "shoulders are reaching for one another way down on the back" is a cue guaranteed to injure me, for example, and I'd be curious exactly what specific difference between cobra and up dog merits vetoing legs together in up dog. Dogs may not stretch with their legs together but cobras don't exactly have their hearts "bursting out" of their chests, either. Witty, but not particularly convincing.

    What really interests me is if there is, in fact, any truth to the "straight joints = cartilage damage" idea. A certain amount of pressure on the joint is healthy and makes it stronger (look at any of hundreds of studies on wight bearing exercise done with good technique). Impingement is bad, bad, bad, as doing chatturanga with the elbows rolled out or shoulders rolled in a few thousand times will quickly demonstrate. Bearing weight through a straight joint? I'd love to see some studies on that – there are plenty of people who did a lot of weight bearing on straight knees back when Iyengar teachers just taught "straighten the legs and pull the knees up" and never had any problems. I know gymnasts who've spent decades doing knee extension drills with no ill effect. Definitely, based on the number of operations I've seen yogis need, the killer is balancing on the hands with the arms significantly internally rotated and the elbows flying out. Straight arms I've not seen produce any wrist/elbow/shoulder ops, internal rotation a few (though I've also met people still happily doing it after 40 years). I'm beginning to wonder, is this just another persistent alignment myth?

    I'm hoping you're quoting studies here, not just repeating what your teacher told you, and you'll be able to come back with something.

  6. ashley says:

    Natasha – Thanks for the comment. I will come back with some cues for aligning and transition in your flow 🙂

    John- Here is a small article about the elbows that illustrates the point – http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/yoga-dos-and-donts-elbow-alert. I agree with you that part of the danger comes from elbows going out to the side when weight-bearing on the arms. However, my reason for mentioning the hyperextension of the elbows is from my past experience, not from studies or teachers saying so. I have seen friends and students hyperextending their elbows and leaving the class sore. This is the body’s way of doing less work – taking the weight out of the muscles and transferring it to the joint. This is the main point. Whether or not it causes serious wear of the cartilage (it makes sense to me that it does), yoga is meant to reverse bad habits, build and stretch muscles, and lubricate and protect joints. And by watching your elbows (and knees) while practicing, you can improve these and the flow of energy within the body. When I see someone with very flexible elbows hyperextending, I can see a kink in the energy flow of the body. Once the elbows are loosened up, one can clearly see that the posture is much more safe and dynamic.

  7. Ashley says:

    John- Here is a small article about the elbows that illustrates the point – http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/yoga-dos-a…. I agree with you that part of the danger comes from elbows going out to the side when weight-bearing on the arms. However, my reason for mentioning the hyperextension of the elbows is from my past experience, not from studies or teachers saying so. I have seen friends and students hyperextending their elbows and leaving the class sore. This is the body's way of doing less work – taking the weight out of the muscles and transferring it to the joint. This is the main point. Whether or not it causes serious wear of the cartilage (it makes sense to me that it does), yoga is meant to reverse bad habits, build and stretch muscles, and lubricate and protect joints. And by watching your elbows (and knees) while practicing, you can improve these and the flow of energy within the body. When I see someone with very flexible elbows hyperextending, I can see a kink in the energy flow of the body. Once the elbows are loosened up, one can clearly see that the posture is much more safe and dynamic.

  8. ashley says:

    Natasha – Thanks for the comment. I will come back with some cues for aligning and transition in your flow 🙂 There is so much!

  9. John says:

    Thanks for the link and the response.

    Again, the article quoted doesn't link to any sources that I could see, it's just personal experience with a theoretical anatomy explanation that's not been tested. "Bone on bone" in the article, and in thousands of yoga classes I've been to, is starting to sound like impingement, not stacking the bones to optimally bear weight, to me. I don't see weight lifting coaches saying "be careful not to lock out your arm in overhead lift" and they have been as interested in long term joint health as yogis for a while now. Also, to be honest, looking at the pictures in the article, I'm not sure which was supposed to be "bad" and which "good". I would get shoulder pain from doing either. To me the "locking the joint wears away cartilage" adage is still questionable, I'm afraid.

    Hyperextension is a second issue – again there are two schools of thought here. In the "good old days" when soviet coaches used to pick kids for sports one of the pluses for gymnastics generally and hand balancing particularly was hyperextending elbows. Whatever the author of that article might think, these people have most certainly developed significant muscular strength and many still have fully healthy elbow joints decades later. I've seen people suddenly find they can do handstands without pain when they leave yoga and start training with gymnastics/circus coaches who let them hyperextend naturally instead of forcing them into an unnatural bent arm position to suit yoga orthodoxy. I've also seen people with extreme hyperextension need to learn to approach straight and move away from their full range of movement and experiences like yours and the author of the article you quote are not uncommon in the yoga world. For now I'm going with the important thing being to work the muscle, the exact position of the joint being secondary.

    Here's some one who spends a lot of time on his hands, way more than the vast majority of yoga teachers, without any ill effect, explaining how to develop elbow extension more for a better, safer, handstand https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEdcwPRmdFw

    It'd be great to see some genuine science as to which approach is most suited to the most people.

  10. rekha says:

    Please mention the way fingers need to spread and well pressed to the ground and body weight should never be on wrists with knuckles bent when doing chaturanga dandasana or cobra etc., Its a very common mistake (most yogis also dont know it) and I cringe when I see yoga teachers with their knuckles bent while doing chaturanga..People dont know they are hurting their wrists!!

  11. Kate Bee says:

    Just a comment about the header…Vinyasa and ashtanga ARE both hatha ….Hatha yoga refers to all practice of physical postures…it’s not a style