Over the last few years of practicing yoga, I have picked up a few key tips that can help improve postures and avoid injury. As it is impossible for a yoga teacher to reiterate every single pointer in each class, it is quite possible that you could practice for months before hearing of even one of these. It is the smallest of adjustments that can make a difference to an asana, both in terms of it’s effectiveness and safety. As I am not a qualified teacher, I have stuck to suggestions that I have had recommended several times. If in doubt, please speak to a teacher. Happy stretching!
Flex those feet
When in pigeon pose, or another posture that involves a knee bend, keeping the foot flexed can help protect the knee from being pulled. When you’re legs are outstretched, but not pressed into the floor, such as in shoulder stand, your teacher may recommend flexing here as well. Whilst less essential in terms of injury, flexing the foot extends the calf muscles, deepening your stretch. If you are already finding the pose difficult, consider softly pointing the toes instead.
Tuck the tailbone
Tucking the tailbone, by actively tilting the pelvis down and forwards, stops your lower back from becoming strained. It is very easy to put all the bend of a heart opener or backbend into your lower back, rather than the rest of your spine. Tucking the tailbone (which can also be done by squeezing your glutes and associated pelvic muscles) restricts all the movement from being focused on the low back.
Find a focus point
There’s nothing more likely to make you topple from your dancer’s pose than the person next to you wobbling in the corner of your eye. Really focus on a spot in front of you (6-8 feet is often suggested) and remember to keep breathing. Even if you do start to lose your balance, you are much more likely to recover when your gaze is steady.
Breath and hold
Deep stretches can be one of the most challenging parts of yoga. Make sure that you are properly warmed up before holding the stretch -as the saying goes -as deep as you think you can go, then one degree further. Once there, for example, in splits, it is important to hold for a good few seconds whilst breathing slowly. I have been recommended to aim for around eight slow breaths. Focusing on the breath rather than holding for a time is good because it is the breath that sends signals to your muscles to relax into the stretch rather than resisting. With a break and a little shake between, try to hold the stretch a good three or four times with the breath to really help your muscles become more flexible. If you do find that you are in real pain, then do not hold a pose!