The world of yoga has changed a great deal since Lilias Folan’s PBS show “Lilias, Yoga and You” brought yoga into living rooms across the United States during the 1970′s. Now, yoga can be found at most local gyms and fitness centers, and has become an entire industry unto itself, from the yoga fashion of brands like Lululemon and Be Present, to DVD’s, books, magazines. Plus, the many retreats offered in exotic locations around the globe all dedicated to improving ones yoga practice. It can be hard to remember at times that the true goal of yoga as it was originally taught in India is spiritual liberation.
The word yoga means union. Practicing yoga involves a deep quest of uniting body, mind and spirit and is much more than just a physical practice. Given the many styles of teaching that have come forth since Lilian Folan’s television show in the 1970s, and that some practices may have strayed from what Patanjili, the author of the ancient yoga sutras, had in mind, it seemed worth investigating these six common yoga mistakes to avoid in today’s yoga world.
1. Don’t hold your breath
Paying attention to the breath is important in most yoga practices. Yoga teacher Dr. Madan Bali reminds us of this one major mistake to avoid, “cardiac patients should be particularly careful not to hold the breath while practicing yoga.” His statement infers a gentle monitoring on the part of the practitioner to do what works for their own bodies, beyond just what a yoga teacher may be telling them. This 90-year-old yoga teacher from Montreal is a living example of a healthy yoga practice, and has been on the faculty at the world’s premier holistic learning centers Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.
2. Don’t overdo it
Jean Koerner, who has been teaching yoga for over 20 years, and is one of the yoga teacher training faculty at ISHTA Yoga in Manhattan, says, “one common yoga mistake people make is not listening to their body and pushing or over efforting, which can cause injury.” The importance of deeply listening inside and honoring one’s own body and its limits must always be a priority.
3. Just relax
“Another common yoga mistake people make is trying to fit their body to a pose rather than fitting the pose to their body,” says Ms Koerner. “One of the biggest mistakes people make with a yoga practice is that they think there is something to achieve or to get to. Because we exist, we are there already.”
4. Know your yoga
Glenn Black, a well respected yoga teacher and faculty at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, who was also highly quoted in a William J Broad’s “New York Times” article in 2012 titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”, says: “the biggest mistake people make is to call asana Yoga.”
Mr Black’s comments emphasize that in the West some of the more mindful elements of yoga can often be left out or forgotten. He continues, “Biggest mistakes people make is to think that they can do asana and even the mental (meditative) techniques without preparation or proper assessment of their bodies or minds, and expect good results.”
5. Don’t ignore the fifth limb
Known for his wry sense of humor, Glenn Black also addresses the common yoga mistake that many in today’s yoga world being that people ignore the fifth limb of yoga called Pratyahara, which is about withdrawal and sensory transcendence.
“It is time for people to be devout. To cut the ties we have to the attachments that fill out society,” says Mr Black. “The results of serious practice may then have a chance to raise Consciousness beyond when we jumped from the trees.”
6. Remember that it is more than a form of exercise
Gillian Arthur, who studied yoga at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and now teaches as restorative yoga faculty at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, sums up her thoughts with “A common yoga mistake is to see it as a practice of doing. Yoga is not a practice of doing, but a practice of being.”
Hopefully with the wisdom of these teachers and others, we can be reminded that to misappropriate yoga as simply another fitness craze or way of getting a physical workout misses the true essence and spirit of an ancient system of healing and enlightenment.