Whether it's regular, hot, Bikram, or Vinyasa, yoga has a laundry list of benefits. For starters: An increase in flexibility and potential improvement in athletic performance, according to a study in the International Journal of Yoga. Flowing can even help you prepare your body for pregnancy. Then there's the mental side of it, too. Getting your downward dog on can reduce stress and anxiety and better your overall mental health.
But if you're doing it wrong, then you can be hurting—instead of helping—your body and your yoga practice. We caught up with Julie Brazitis, instructor at Lyons Den Power Yoga in New York City, to identify some of the biggest yoga mistakes you could be making in class.
1. Holding your breath through challenging poses
Both beginners and seasoned yoga practitioners alike often hold or shorten their breath during challenging poses. Instead, you should be refocusing your breath during these intense moments, says Brazitis. Breath "is a great tool to find physical ease, stay in the pose, and find a greater expression of the pose," she says.
2. Using poor front foot positioning in warrior I
It's easy to misstep when you're moving quickly through a flow. Your goal should be to have your front foot toward twelve o'clock during warrior I, instead of turned out. This helps keep your knee safely stacked over the ankle and helps you square your hips toward the front of your yoga mat.
3. Letting your eyes wander around the room
Drishti, which is Sanskrit for "focused gaze," is when the eyes are set on your yoga practice. An important component of finding presence, balance, and power mid-flow, this tactic also helps with concentration. It's easy to get sidetracked by someone's incredible headstand form, or something happening outside the window. But Brazitis says that "looking at one physical point in the room during each pose will focus your mind, your breath, and your practice."
4. Forgetting to stabilize your core
"By pulling the pit of your belly in and up toward your spine, you will naturally neutralize the pelvis and the low back to make every pose stronger and healthier," says Brazitis. Letting your core fall where it may causes you to arch your lower back (thanks to a forward-tilting spine), which puts pressure on your lower back. This is why, whether you're spinning or doing HIIT workouts, you'll commonly hear instructors call out "Brace your core!" Yoga is certainly no exception. Brace your core by bringing your belly button in toward your spine and stabilizing your abs.
5. Not hydrating enough
All forms of yoga, particularly hot power yoga, are physically exerting and require the body to be hydrated and fueled before practicing. Forgetting to do so, or underestimating how much you should be drinking before or during a workout, is a common but dangerous mistake, says Brazitis. "I've seen students battle and drop off through practice when they're not properly hydrated," she says. "I recommend drinking water enhanced with electrolytes in the hours prior to practice and generously replenishing afterward."
6. Rounding your back in halfway lift
During a Vinyasa yoga practice, a halfway lift is a transitional pose between forward fold and low plank (or Chaturanga). The goal: to draw your shoulders down your back to create a long straight spine prior to the following movement. A common mistake is lifting the middle of your spine, which rounds your back. Instead try hinging at the hips, tightening your hamstrings, and bracing your core. Brazitis says if you have tight hamstrings, bending your knees can help. You can then press the palms of your hands into your shins and reach the crown of your head forward.
7. Dipping your shoulders below your hips in Chaturanga
Chaturanga, or moving from high plank to low plank, can be challenging for students of all levels during a Vinyasa flow. Doing it wrong can put unnecessary strain on the shoulder joints and spine. "I often see students move into Chaturanga like they're doing 'the worm,' diving their shoulders down to their mats while their booties stick up high in the air," says Brazitis. Instead, she says, "draw the shoulders onto your back to integrate, keep the pelvis neutral, and pull the pit of your belly in and up."
8. Practicing incorrect foot position in tree pose
You're feeling a bit unstable balancing on one foot, don't think quickly enough in the moment, and place your lifted foot wherever it feels the most solid—which for many people could be directly or partially on the inner part of your kneecap. Brazitis says can put strain on the joint. "The goal is to place your foot on the opposite inner thigh or inner calf muscle," she says.