“For those who have an intense urge for spirit and wisdom, it sits near them, waiting.” – Pantajali, Yoga Sutras
To begin this article, we’re going to provide a (real) quick overview on what yoga is. It’s likely that some of our readers haven’t learned about or practiced yoga, so we’d like to clear things up.
Yoga is generally recognized as an “ancient system of philosophies, principles and practices derived from the Vedic tradition of India.” The foundational tenets of Yoga are believed to have been discovered over 2500 years ago.
People unfamiliar with yoga may associate the practice with the mastery of difficult poses. This is partially accurate; but yoga encompasses – and in fact, prioritizes – mental and spiritual discipline before the physical. For example, a period of meditation and/or breathing exercises is/are integral to many yoga practitioners.
The Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu religious text, describes the practice: “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” In theory, yoga practitioners associate this journey with the mastery and connection of body, mind and spirit.
The purpose of this article is to discuss what not to do while practicing yoga. The aim is to educate and inform both practitioners and non-practitioners, alike. We also provide recommendations from yogi teachers and instructors on what to do instead.
Without further delay, here are the 7 things to refrain from when practicing this ancient spiritual science:
1. Don’t allow distractions
You’ll have plenty of other opportunities to be distracted. To effectively practice yoga, your mind must be in the present moment. This is not only to encourage proper technique. Mindfulness is a vital precept to the practice.
Further, if you permit distractions while practicing yoga, you’re much more prone to injury. Yoga is a difficult science to master, and it requires synchrony of the body and mind.
Solution: mindfully acknowledge distractions (including mind-wandering), and gently bring attention back to the breath and body.
2. Don’t force results
Mastery of various poses in yoga is considered a high priority. That said, experienced yogis too often see new practitioners trying to rush the process; specifically, trying to contort their body into a pose for which they are not ready. Of course, doing so drastically increases the risk of injury.
Yoga teachers adamantly teach against forcing things and being too goal-oriented.
Solution: focus inward (i.e. the mental, spiritual); doing so will naturally advance physical abilities and permit the practice of more difficult poses.
3. Don’t forget about props
For the uninitiated, a yoga prop is “simply an object that is used to aid the practice of yoga poses.” These objects include things like wooden bricks, foam blocks, yoga bolsters, “sticky mats,” belts and blankets.
The purpose of yoga props is to develop the bodily alignment and strength necessary to further advance proficiency. Of course, developing these physical attributes helps to prevent injury as well.
Solution: try not to view use of props as a crutch; they are there to encourage proficiency, advance understanding, and prevent injury.
4. Don’t forget about strength
Any quick internet search will yield pictures of yogis in some amazing poses, and we immediately think about the amazing flexibility required to get into such a position – and this is indeed part of it. While instructors preach flexibility, they also note the importance of strength. In fact, most teachers prioritize strength over flexibility.
Strength is prioritized for a couple of reasons. First, it allows the body to develop the alignment necessary for poses. Second, it significantly decreases the risk of injury.
Solution: focus on each individual pose, seek advice, and engage in activities that strengthen areas of the body you may consider to be “weak.”
5. Don’t forget proper breathing
The practice of good breathing techniques should be constant throughout the entire yoga session. Mindful, deep breathing accomplishes a couple important things: (1) it suppresses the “fight or flight” response and relaxes the mind, and (2) it reduces physical stress by transferring more oxygen to the muscles.
Solution: think of deep breathing as a “constant” throughout yoga practice, not as a “session” to be completed before or after.
6. Don’t test your pain threshold
One of the most asinine yet commonly-accepted human actions is to “fight through the pain.” Many believe that such actions are an essential component of mental and physical toughness. It’s not…it’s an ignorantly-held belief that accomplishes nothing.
Many yoga teachers remind students about the mental and spiritual elements of yoga – one of which is non-violence. Relatedly, fundamental yoga tenets teach non-suffering, which includes self-imposed pain.
Solution: ask for advice, use a prop, or adjust the body in a way that does not result in pain.
7. Don’t worry about hard poses
Again, there are some absolutely stunning pictures of yogis in seemingly-impossible poses (e.g. “the lotus”). Naturally, many practitioners want to master these poses sooner rather than later.
This is another situation where tenets of the practice are reinforced: patience, acceptance, safety, and inner-focus. Practicing yoga is not a competition – it’s about mastery of mind and spirit.
Solution: turn attention inward; only practice poses that feel comfortable.