One of the four main reasons beginners quit yoga is that they feel inadequate for not being as flexible as experienced yogis. Does this resonate with you? I know I had days where I thought about throwing in the towel for that reason when I first started vinyasa yoga. However, when I realized I was making quite a few mistakes, I started to learn what I needed to do to become more flexible, and finally began seeing improvement.
Eleven years later, I’m going to share with you some common mistakes beginners make when working on their flexibility. And while you could learn from trial and error like I did, this is going to save you years of work. In fact, I know that once you start reading this list, you will have serious “ah-hah moments” that will make those poses that frustrate you suddenly become your favorites! Let’s get started.
The 8 Common Mistakes
1) Going Into a Deep Pose Too Fast
When you come into a seated forward fold, you may want to fold, and quickly reach for your toes. However, it is much more effective and safer to start off in a relaxed version of the pose with hands on the thighs, and after every couple breaths, inch forward to slowly reach for the toes. I don’t just mean for beginners, either. Every day we need to warm up the muscles, tendons and ligaments after a night of sleep and relaxation. Not only will you see progress in your flexibility much faster this way, but you’ll also prevent the possibility of injuring yourself.
2) Not Believing You Can Do It
In the beginning of your yoga practice, you may legitimately not be able to do a pose. After you’ve practiced a while though, you’re most likely going to be able to do poses you weren’t able to do before. Unfortunately, muscle memory and thought patterns may prevent you from believing you can. For example, let’s say you try to come into camel pose. Maybe a few months ago, you tried, and felt pain in your lower back once you bent back about 55 degrees. However, maybe this time, you can bend back almost 90 degrees, but you’re afraid of trying to go that far in fear you’ll feel pain like you did last time. Sometimes you need to fight that mental barrier, and if you’re at 55 degrees and not feeling pain, push your ability to go a little further.
3) Lacking a Consistent Practice
At studios, you’ll find there to be many “drop-in” students. Some of these students practice religiously at home, while occasionally wanting to go to public classes, but many are students with inconsistent practices that come once every three weeks and say, “I’ve just been too busy”. These are also often the students that wonder why they haven’t made progress in the past year. Don’t let yourself get into this habit, or your body will remain stiff. New students should aim to go to yoga classes two to five days a week, while more experienced students that practice at home almost daily can attend class less frequently.
4) Being Impatient About Progress
The feeling of being impatient is a form of stress, which is not helpful for your flexibility, nor any other aspect of your body, including your mind. Being stressed will also stiffen your body even more, so stay calm, and be grateful for the progress you have made, while accepting what you haven’t accomplished yet. There’s a reason you haven’t gotten to that point, and discovering that reason is part of your journey.
5) Practicing in a Cold Room
It’s much easier to bend your body in a warm or hot room. If you’re not jiving with hot yoga or Bikram Yoga, a comfortable temperature of 68 to 75 degrees is fine for active yoga styles such as hatha, vinyasa, kundalini, or ashtanga. Just be sure to warm up your body with sun salutations or other easier yoga poses to lubricate the joints, and even work up a sweat. Managing the temperature is especially important to be mindful of during colder seasons. If you live somewhere where it becomes freezing, you may even want to layer your yoga clothes, or do less intense forms of yoga, such as restorative yoga, slow flows or yin yoga. Practicing active styles of yoga with stiff muscles can be dangerous.
6) Breathing Infrequently or Improperly
When a newer student is holding a difficult pose, they’ll often hold their breath in, or breathe without a pattern. That’s the opposite of what you want to do. You want to correctly match the breath with the pose, so it will be easier to bend without pain. The general rule of thumb is to inhale when you open the body, and exhale when you close the body. For example, when you do cat-cow pose, you inhale during cow pose because you’re pushing your lungs outward, and you exhale during cat pose because your drawing the torso inward. This will make it easier to curve and arch your spine.
7) Doing Unsafe Pose Alignment
Our bodies are designed very specifically, so if you try to come into a pose, but have one slight misalignment, you may not be able to do it. While this may lead you to believe you’re not flexible enough, it’s more likely that you need to make one or two simple adjustments to make it feel much easier and more comfortable. Proper pose alignment is essential for reaching your full potential, which is why it’s not always effective to copy a pose based on a picture from Google or Instagram. Sometimes you need to look in a large mirror, or ask a teacher to point out your slight misalignment.
8) Using the Wrong Poses to Prep
The final common reason beginners don’t see increased flexibility in their practice is because they’re using the wrong poses to prep for a more challenging pose. For example, if you’re simply practicing poses that you recall from class, and they focus on the upper body, you’re not going to suddenly be able to come into a deep squat for garland pose, because your lower body isn’t prepared for it. You need to organize poses in an order that allows specific parts of your body to gradually open up. Designing a proper pose sequence is challenging for most yogis that haven’t taken a teacher training or those that don’t have knowledge in extensive human anatomy, so be sure to attend classes regularly to learn these sequences if that’s the case for you.