I have written about this in the past, but I feel like some things need to be repeated, so here are my top 5 "rules" for Yoga. I hope you find these helpful, and at least, an encouragement to your practice.
Rule #1....Use Common Sense
If a teacher says work within your own limits (even if they don't, youshould), honor your body by listening to it. If you try a posture (asana) and you can't breathe or it's painful, don't do it.
Rule #2...Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Any Yoga teacher should welcome questions. If there is a posture you have a concern about or need a modification for, they should be a able to help you. You don't have to stop and raise your hand; eye contact can go a long way in class. If that doesn't work, simply gesture for the teacher to come over. If a teacher tells you to push through and you're not comfortable, don't. You are the practitioner, IT IS ALL ABOUT YOU!!!
Rule #3…Never Compete
Don’t put yourself at risk for an injury by competing with others or yourself (our own ego can be a real pain in the butt). You will hear me say this at the beginning of every class I teach. It’s my hope that non-competition resonates each time I say it. There is no place for competition in yoga. Progress in your practice is not absolute, and is always individual. Your Yoga practice is about taking your own next steps, not anyone else’s.
I know this sounds basic, but we don’t always breathe to the best of our ability. The cornerstone of Hatha Yoga is Pranayama. Prana, meaning life breath, and yama, meaning restraint or control. When you consider the purpose of Hatha Yoga being mastery of body and breath, it’s easy to see why one can’t exist without the other. Our breath is our vital life source and is truly paramount to the asanas or postures we practice. If we can control our breath, we can harness our life-force and progress in our yogic practice
For the sake of a go-to rule, breath with your diaphragm while practicing asanas or postures. There are exceptions to this rule for some asanas, but your teacher can guide you in the specifics of which postures require special breath considerations.
Rule #5…Mind Your Posture
In all postures, avoid over-arching the lower back (swayback). The best way to do this is to ‘tuck’ the tailbone. Tucking the tailbone helps lengthen the lower back, minimizing the risk of injury. Core control, by engaging the muscles of the lower abdomen will also help.
Remember that your neck is part of your spine! Always try to keep your head (and therefore neck), in line with the rest of your spine. When we contort our head and neck, we increase the risk of compressing the discs and vertebrae of the cervical spine.
Don’t tense your shoulders! By extending the back of the neck (think of the head being pulled up through a string to lengthen the cervical spine), the shoulders should naturally soften, and the shoulder blades release down the back. Gently rolling the shoulders back and away when you feel yourself tensing during practice (or life), can help with this.
Respect your joints. There are six types of synovial joints in the human body (pivot, hinge, saddle, plane, condyloid, and ball-and-socket), and we need to respect the function of each in our practice. One of the biggest risks for injury is in the knee joint. The knee is a hinge joint and is made to fold open and closed. There is very limited room in the knee joint for rotation. What does this mean? Avoid twisting your knees, especially cross-legged positions in seated postures (i.e.: lotus). Caution in standing postures is also warranted. Avoid locking out the knee, and when one leg is supporting most of the body weight, never allow the knee to extend beyond the ankle. If you want to ere on the safer side of caution, keep the knee slightly behind the ankle (i.e.: crescent lunge and warrior postures).
I raise a glass (contents negotiable, depending on the time of day) to another week of happy and safe yoga practice. May you find a time and a space to fill your spirit and your cup!