As you glide quickly from one asana to another in yoga, it can start to feel like you’re a human pretzel, who may or may not be doing everything exactly right. The thing is, while you don’t necessarily have to look just like your instructor perfectly executing every move, certain mistakes can take a slight toll on your body (or just not feel as good as doing the move properly).
At Well+Good’s last retreat, which took place at the Cedar Lakes Estate, co-leader and New York City-based yoga instructor Beth Cooke revealed the three moves that people most commonly don’t get just right. “These are common things that people get wrong,” she says as she makes hands-on adjustments. “Okay, maybe not wrong—but there are better ways of doing them.”
Whether it’s just an alignment that’s out of wack or a downward dog that could use some improvement, here are Cooke’s simple alterations to the most common yoga mistakes that she sees in her classes. “They’re little corrections, but they make a big difference,” says Cooke. “It’s hard work but it’s better for the body, and it’ll give you a stronger practice.” Namaste.
Downward facing dog
“Take your regular down dog with your middle fingers facing forward so you have better traction to lift the hips up and back,” says Cooke. “Now bend your knees and stick your tailbone even higher. Now you’ll have more strength in the spine and the side body, which is really important here. Bend the knees—the heels might lift a little bit, but that’s okay—and then wrap your armpits in towards your heart. You’ll feel it more in your legs.”
“Oftentimes, people come all the way up to a high cobra,” says Cooke. “So we’re gonna stay low to the ground. Hips stay on the floor. You’re pressing your pubic bone down and pressing your toes down into the ground. Bring the elbows and squeeze them together behind the back. Your shoulders are back. Now lengthen through the crown of your head so there are no wrinkles in the back of your neck.”
Upward facing dog
“This one is so important,” says Cooke. “I often see this in class—you drop the head back, so that gets crunchy in the neck. So think of lifting the gaze a little bit, spreading the collarbones super wide, and pressing down through the tops of the toes so that the hips hover. Keep the navel pulled in tight to protect the low back here. Now spread the collarbones even wider.”
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