When you first start practicing yoga, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the magic of the practice and how incredible it makes you feel both mentally and physically. But as with any form of exercise, there are a few precautions to keep in mind to make the most out of your experience, and ensure you'll avoid injuries in the long-term. Whether you're a beginner yogi or an advanced practitioner, you should always be looking out for a few yoga red flags that might put a damper on your flow time.
As a yoga teacher myself, the main thing I'd advise beginners to look out for is to make sure they're not constantly comparing themselves to others, whether it's the person next to you in a studio class, or even a yogi whose YouTube videos you follow along with. It's your practice, and that blissful time you have on the mat is meant to serve you in every way, regardless of where you are in your skills.
Of course, there are some physical red flags to look out for in yoga, too, and they're just as important to pay attention to so that your practice stays comfortable, safe, and serene.
A good instructor will usually cue these things during your flow, so make sure you're paying close attention! Here are six yoga red flags you should keep an eye (or ear) out for if you're newly committed to your time on the mat.
1You're Out Of Breath By The Time You're Done With Your Practice
If you've been to even just a few yoga classes before, you've probably already noticed that most teachers cue deep inhales and long exhales to be linked with each of your movements on the mat.
Deep belly breathing that mimics the sounds of the ocean (which is referred to as Ujjayi breathing, in Sanskrit) is such an important part of linking your physical yoga practice with your state of mind. Learning to breathe deeply is key for enduring the sometimes-uncomfortable moments on your yoga mat (like when you're holding a pose for a long time), but it also serves a long-term purpose of teaching you how to handle difficult situations that pop up in your life off the mat.
So, when your instructor tells you to breathe slowly and expansively, don't just ignore her and do your own thing. Proper breathing during your practice can be the ultimate game-changer.
2Your Hamstrings And Butt Are Always Super Sore
"Yoga butt" is a seriously annoying injury that can pop up at any time in your yoga practice. TBH, it's a real pain in the ass (pun fully intended, sorry guys).
If you notice a dull pain running through the length of your hamstring, particularly the kind that feels worse when you try to stretch your hammies in a forward fold or split, it's probably a case of good ol' yoga butt. Yoga butt can also present itself in other sneaky ways, such as a pins-and-needles sensation on the sides of your glutes or calves, or a sharp aching around your sit bones (aka the sharp bones in your behind that you can feel when you're sitting down) when you're in a seated position.
To prevent this in your own practice, make sure you're squeezing your glutes and engaging your muscles in deep hamstring stretches, listening to those alignment cues during class, and always listening to your own body and its signals.
3Your Wrists Always Hurt
Throughout a typical yoga flow, there will almost always be a few poses that require a bit of wrist strength. However, if you dump all of your body weight on your wrists without engaging other muscles to protect them, your poor joints will be on the road to injury real fast.
Whether it be in downward dog, chaturanga, or crow pose, there are a few things to keep in mind while you're on your mat, so that you can have a pain-free and fully restorative practice.
Remember to stretch your wrists before your flow so they're warmed up and not too tight. Additionally, spread your fingers wide, like a starfish, when you're in poses like downward dog. When you're not practicing yoga, try incorporating some general wrist-strengthening exercises into your daily routine. Pretty soon, you'll have wrists of steel (is that a thing?), my friend.
4You're Too Eager To Try The Harder, More Advanced Poses
Listening to your body is a priority during yoga, and it's especially important not to stress your muscles out by trying to go into more advanced poses by pushing yourself past what's comfortable for you.
For example, in a seated forward fold, you always want to fold forward with a flat back, and stop folding when you've reached your limit. If you push too far, and too fast, you'll likely suffer a hamstring or lower back injury, which just isn't a fun time.
Remember, yoga is a lifelong practice! It's a marathon, not a sprint. Take it slow — you'll be on the road to more advanced poses with patience and practice.
5You Never Use Props
When beginner yogis are given props, they often think it's because they're not good enough to do the poses on their own, so they push them aside without a second thought. But seriously guys, even the most advanced yogis out there use props. They're an extremely helpful tool to avoid injuries, and they can really help you learn about proper body alignment, which will definitely stay with you as you continue a regular practice.
In asanas like half moon, pigeon pose, and seated forward fold, props like blocks, straps, and blankets can make a huge difference. If your teacher suggests them in class, don't be afraid to try them out! These bad boys might just completely transform your practice for the better.
6You Ignore Alignment Cues Throughout Class, Or There Aren't Any Cues At All
You've probably figured out by now that alignment is super important in a yoga practice. In beginner classes, a good teacher should consistently provide you with cues about this throughout the class, so be sure to listen closely.
For example, in a wheel pose, you'll want to avoid having your knees splayed outward. Instead, you want to pretend you're squeezing an imaginary brick between your thighs. If you don't do this, it might lead to lower back strain or aggravation.
If your teacher doesn't provide enough cues, you might want to start trying out new classes. It's important to find an instructor who makes you feel comfortable in class, and who knows how to prevent pain and injury throughout your flows.