“DO NOT OVERTHINK YOUR poses.” That’s advice I heard early in my yoga practice – and I shouldn’t have listened. I wound up hurting my shoulder and lower back, and my downward dog felt more like a downward spiral toward painful injuries. As I learned the hard way, thinking about your yoga poses is important. If you’re not, you’re probably doing these common poses wrong:
1. Chatturonga, aka Low Plank
Misalignment: In most yoga classes, you will practice chatturonga upwards of 50 times. Because of this frequency, it is important to get it right. If you are not strong, it is easy to let your hips hammock and collapse out of a plank shape. This is dangerous for your lower back. Do not squeeze your elbows against your ribs or lower your body to the point where your shoulders slouch. Because you are bearing weight on your hands, these missteps are more dangerous. Also, avoid looking down and allowing your head drop, or you will hurt your neck.
Correction: From high plank, make sure your wrists are under your shoulders and straight across your mat. Keep your legs strong to maintain a plank shape. Bend your elbows just far enough away from your body to keep the head of your arm bones plugged back into their shoulder sockets. Look slightly forward and lengthen both the front as much as the back of your neck. Only lower down as far as you can and still maintain good form.
Misalignment: While moving into cobra from low plank, the base of your index knuckle often gets light and may even lift off the mat. That can spur your weight to collapse onto your wrists and cause wrist pain. You may make things worse by pushing your arms straight In an effort to force yourself deeper into the pose. But all that does is cause your shoulders to round and potentially become injured over time. Avoid throwing your chin back and cranking the back of your neck.
Correction: From low plank, keep your shoulders lifted and lower your hips to the mat. Spread your fingers wide, turn your hands out enough to flatten your them and pull your chest forward to lengthen your back. Bend your elbows as much as you need to in order to keep your shoulders aligned. Lift your chin enough to lengthen your neck evenly.
3. Down Dog
Misalignment: Foundational errors are usually the cause for frustration in down dog. If you are not careful to set up your pose, you will likely be too short in your stance. This will make it difficult to fully release your lower back. Your hands have a tendency to turn inward and, as a result, your shoulders slouch. If you have tight hamstrings or a stiff back, it will be easy to over-stretch your legs to the point that it pulls your pelvis down and rounds your lower back.
Correction: Make sure you are long enough in down dog by first coming to a plank position. Do not move your hands or feet, and lift your hips up and back for down dog. Look at your hands and make sure they point straight forward. Spread your fingers wide and flatten your hands. Squeeze your arms straight and lengthen your back. Bend your knees halfway toward the floor. Widen your knees as wide as your feet. With your knees bent, tilt your pelvis up and create a lift in your hips. Only as much as you can keep that lift, work your legs as straight as they will go.
4. Side Plank
Misalignment: When you first move into side plank, it is common to move your hand to the center of the mat, and turn your hand in. When you make this adjustment, you force your shoulder off at an angle. Your hips also sag toward the floor easily in this pose. Both mistakes are costly for your wrist, shoulder and lower back.
Correction: Before you move into side plank on the right side, look at your right hand. Do not move it in, but turn your hand a quarter-inch to the right. This will keep your wrist parallel to the front edge of the mat and protect your wrist. Once you are in the pose, engage your legs and lift your hips high toward the ceiling. As you are balanced, slowly tilt your chest up and look up.
Misalignment: In all backbends, your feet will tend to slide apart and point out. If your feet turn out, your knees and thighs will pull out and this will suffocate your lower back. It is also easy to let your hips relax toward the floor. This could also cause back problems.
Correction: Place your feet straight forward and hips-width apart. Root down through your feet, and lift up your hips and lower back. Clasp your hands underneath you and walk your shoulders up and toward one another. As much as your knees and feet do not turn out, lift your hips toward the ceiling.
6. Uttanasana, aka Standing Forward Fold
Misalignment: Most students’ hamstrings are not open enough to practice advanced variations of this pose, especially within the first 30 minutes of class. If you bow forward with your feet together and your legs straight, your tight hamstrings will prevent you from aligning your lower back. Other misalignments occur when you let your hands dangle away from the floor with your legs straight, or you allow your feet to turn out. Try to push your legs too straight and you risk locking your knee or hyperextending it, as well as over-stretching at your hamstring attachment.
Correction: Step your feet together – leaving about a fist-sized space between them – and point them straight forward. Bend your knees as much as you have to in order to touch the floor. If your back feels strained, bend your knees deeper and step your feet wider to create more of a release. If you are extremely tight, you might have to bend your knees so deep your chest will nearly rest on your thighs. Only straighten your legs if your lower back is releasing out of your pelvis. Make sure the bottom of your shin is moving back at a faster rate than the top of your shin to avoid knee pain.
6 Yoga Poses That Seem Simple But Most People Do Wrong was originally published on U.S. Health News & World Report.
Article written by Jake Panasevich, US News. Practice with Jake Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30am and Wednesdays at 5pm. Register here!
Jake is a yoga teacher in Philly specializing in yoga for men and office workers. He is also a yoga trainer for professional athletes. Listen to Jake’s recent interview on NPR. You could also learn more about Jake in his featured articles in Men’s Health, Huffington Post and US News. Visit Jake’s website at yogawithjake.com.