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Common Yoga Mistakes Clinic

Whether you are a devoted yogi or just trying yoga for the first time, here are some common mistakes you can learn from when you practice your Tadasana pose.

I am not a certified yoga teacher, though I am a NASM Certified Personal Trainer. Please understand that you assume your physical activity at your own risk. These posts are meant only as a helpful reference, and should not overrule the teachings of certified practitioners.

Yesterday as I was walking, someone randomly asked me if I taught yoga. I asked why and he said it was because of the way I moved and carried myself. This is what brought me to write this article.

Here is the first part of Common Mistakes Yoga Clinic which is applicable to everyone.

The Tadasana pose, or mountain pose, is one of the most important of all poses in yoga. It is the punctuation marks for sun salutation series and calls you to attention as it commences movement from the stillness of prayer or vice versa: it brings you back to stillness from the movement of your series.

Let’s break it down now, starting at your base.

Quick back story, and a way to apply this to your greater life and fitness routine. I have incredibly pronated ankles: my arches completely collapse unless I am actively working against this tendency. Through the balancing and strengthening that I have worked on in yoga, I now stand with completely neutral arches, and it is only when I consciously decide to relax my feet that they collapse. I now walk straighter, more evenly, and was able to transition to my Newton Kismets very rapidly because of the built up strength in my feet from my yoga practice. Yoga works to build strength in your feet and ankles—this makes for more efficient strides, better balance, and better proprioception (essentially, your body’s innate knowledge of where it is in space). More efficient movements with greater balance—better motion, movement, less falling, better running as well as lifting, fewer injuries.

• Many people squish their feet together in yoga, thinking that toes and heels must touch. This is a misnomer. The degree of space between your feet can vary—it is often described as a “sliver” of space between your heels. I probably have .5-1 inches.
• I engage my arches to properly and evenly distribute my weight throughout my foot.
• Toes are the often forgotten keys to your poses. For the larger standing balances, I will splay my toes out as far as possible for the widest possible base and best grip. In Tadasana, I am at about medium “splay,” if you will. Toes are crucial instruments in yoga and as well as all other fitness pursuits—we all take them for granted, but many injuries can actually be tied to insufficient toe strength! Plantar Fasciaitis, anyone? As you go through your yoga practice, utilize your toes, but don’t clench them!

• Proper hip position is tough to describe, and tougher to photograph. In the incorrect example, I am tilting my hips down and over arching my back. Another common yoga mistake is to over tuck your hips. The most important thing that you can think of when trying for proper hip alignment is to pursue a straight, neutral spine. Anything that arches your back either direction is too much. That said, you will need to engage your hips at various points by both tilting almost in opposite directions. Allow me to explain a technique that can help:
• Accomplish proper feet placement—the sliver of room between your heels with greatly help you by opening your back. Engage your quads, clench your lower booty (as if there is a cold wet dog nose goosing you—you know what I am talking about). As you shift your pelvis, engage your lower core and then your lower back **for lifters, especially, learning this part of the pelvic shift is HUGE and absolutely necessary because you will strengthen your lower back and protect it far better when lifting.
• The final product is a moment of equilibrium between all of these major muscles, and when you finally achieve it and then practice it, you will notice that it will become a place of comfort and painlessness for you—essentially, you are taking all the pressure out of your back and pelvis, and just sharing it.

• This is another commonly messed up area. In the before picture, see how I’m just reaching up as far as I can? As a result, I’ve just got my shoulders around my ears and am in fact tensing even more than I would be otherwise!
• This picture of my back shows the fix: use your upper/middle back muscles (your lats and rhomboids) to pull your shoulders down your back. Don’t crunch them like in a row—think of doing a pull up or a lat pull down. Get your shoulders and shoulder blades as far from your ears as you can so that you can even feel it in your rib cage!
• Head/chin should be neutral. Think of a queen looking at her subjects, then lower your chin slightly. Benevolent eyes!

• One of the most common mistakes that I see when I am taking a class is just the straight up arm with locked elbows and palms either exactly facing each other or maybe even pointed a bit forward. If you have correctly positioned your shoulders, straight-straight arms should be very difficult, if not impossible, but it is also downright wrong—NEVER lock your joints. That is dangerous in all fitness pursuits! Yoga is no different. Besides, if you are locking out (beyond potentially leading to injury), you are underusing a particular muscle that should be in use to achieve the desired equilibrium.
• The fix: Think of your arms as strongly reaching up. Biceps by your ears, and then curl the pinky-side blade of your hand inwards slightly. For your hands, think ballerina—engaged, but graceful.

There is great complexity in simplicity, eh? Tadasana is a pose that requires every ounce of your concentration to do right until you have done it correctly enough times that it is second nature. Then it only requires about 80% of your concentration, with the other 20% devoted to your breath. But give this a try, you will find yourself standing with Tadasana hips at crosswalks, I kid you not!

Yogis/not yogis alike: what part of this posture is the hardest for you? Where do you struggle?

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