Yoga is for everybody—not only for the advanced practitioner, strict vegan, or tall, lean, flexible body—but for you, right now—even if you are a yoga beginner. That said, there are some common mistakes newbies tend to make that can decrease your pleasure or even lead to injury. Don’t let these gaffes negatively impact a yoga practice that can otherwise bring you contentment, calm, and joy.
It’s a natural impulse, of course, to compare, but when you notice you’re measuring your body against someone else or your headstand against someone else, your mind is engaged in something that’s not yoga. And your thoughts can spiral out of hand fast. If you’re trying to keep up with Ms. Bendy over there or super-advanced asana variation over here, you’re in danger of losing track of your own yogic experience. In fact, you’re everywhere but on your mat. How does this pose feel for you? Drop back into your own body by breathing into your heart center. Close your eyes if it helps.
Breathing exercises, or pranayama is the fourth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Breath practice helps balance the life force energy (“prana,” in Sanskrit). In yoga, the breath helps connect the mind and the body. Holding your breath effectively blocks your practice from flowing. If you want your yoga practice to flow, your breath should, too. The deep inhalation and exhalation of yogic Ujjayi breath offers a variety of benefits.
Don’t let your ego keep you from reaching for blocks or a strap by thinking it makes a pose “easier.” Props are there to support you in your practice, so lean on them—literally! Instead of compromising the integrity of a posture by straining to reach the floor—which will compromise (you guessed it) the breath—bring the floor to you. Once you embrace the use of props as part of your beginner set-up, you will likely come to love them as they bring comfort and expansion to your practice.
Locking your joints can cause pain and injury, especially in standing poses. Locking the knee joint makes it more difficult to give your body the support it needs and immobilizes the leg while also throwing the spine out of alignment. When practicing postures in which your body weight is supported by your arms and legs, remember to keep some softness in the knee and elbow joints by activating the muscles in the legs and arms and pushing back against the floor rather than sinking into it. Imagine that keeping a bend in your joints keeps you as loose and bendy as a spring.
You’ll practice yoga when you lose ten pounds, when you have more time, when you have more money for yoga clothes. That’s like waiting to fall in love until you have your dream job. Yoga is for everybody and every body. That includes you, right now, just the way you are, as messy as your life may be today.
“Yoga practice is important but not serious,” says yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater. “Practice is too important to be serious.” Think of people who take themselves too seriously; we say they are self-important. But when we think of our practice as important but not serious, we’re able to laugh when we fall out of Crow Pose, smile fiercely in our Warrior 2, and not die of embarrassment if we pass gas.
“A common yoga mistake is to see it as a practice of doing,” says Gillian Arthur, who is on the yoga faculty at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. “Yoga is not a practice of doing, but a practice of being.” When you only think of yoga as exercise for the body rather than a holistic practice that integrates all aspects of your being—body, mind, and spirit—you miss out on a huge portion of its benefits. You might also risk injury by focusing too intently on pushing yourself physically. Remember: Physical fitness is a benefit of yoga, but not the goal.