Three Common Yoga Misalignments and How to Fix Them

Am I doing this right?

 

3 Common Yoga Misalignments and How to Fix Them

There’s no such thing as being bad at yoga, but you can certainly practice in an unsafe manner.  Today we’ll look at three common misalignments, why they happen, and how to fix them. Hopefully, you’ll learn a few things. You might chuckle. You may have to sacrifice some dignity for the sake of science. No matter what, I hope you gain some insight into your practice.

1. The Uneasy Easy Pose

While sukhasana (Easy Pose, AKA the cross-legged seat) is a resting posture for many, some of us feel like we’re dying inside when we’re asked to maintain this position for any length of time.

Where things go wrong

Think about your leg position while you’re driving or sitting in a chair. Sukhasana asks our bodies to do the opposite of what most Westerners do all day. You might notice discomfort in your lower back, or your knees may want to pop off the mat when you’re in a cross-legged seat.

Tight hips are usually to blame for pain and misalignment in sukhasana. When your hips can’t properly externally rotate, your pelvis tilts backward to compensate. The posterior tilt to the pelvis puts pressure on your lower back. You wind up fighting against a rounded back when this happens. Over time, you’ll flatten out the lovely and necessary curve in your lumbar spine.

That posterior pelvic tilt doesn’t feel so great on your lower back, but it’s not doing anything for your breathing either. Test the difference between breathing with a slight hunch in your back and breathing while the spine is aligned. When you’re able to sit up straight, you literally have more room to breathe.

How to make it better

If you have the time, consider warming up with a hip-opening asana such as Badha Konasana (Bound Angle/ Butterfly/ Cobbler’s Pose) before heading into your cross-legged seat. Many misalignments arise when you aren’t warmed up, and since this is a common pose for the start of class, chances are that you might be asked to come into it cold.

One of the quickest fixes for an uneasy easy pose is to sit on a prop. Your goal is to elevate the hips above the knees. This simultaneously lowers your center of gravity and keeps your pelvis from tipping backward. You may notice increased stability, and it makes it easier to align your head over your heart and heart over pelvis.

How much elevation you need really comes down to how tight your hips are. You may only need the space that sitting on a blanket affords you, but you might have to use a block or bolster. Grab all the props and experiment. Bonus points if you do it before a vinyasa class and trick everyone into thinking they’ve walked into restorative.

2. The Precarious Pez Head in Upward-Facing Dog

We’ve all seen those videos of advanced practitioners tossing their heads back in Upward-Facing Dog. Like many people, I failed to realize that those yogis were engaging their necks in ways I didn’t understand. I wound up giving myself a lot of headaches while my teachers patiently helped me figure out that this was not a good look for me.

Where things go wrong

The bones in your neck, the cervical spine, are the tiniest, most mobile, and most injury-prone vertebrae.  You might notice you’ve hyper-extended your neck if you feel crunching or strain when you tilt your head back. Too much stress on soft-tissues in the neck can lead to headaches and chronic muscle pain. Repeated hyperextension of your neck cause occipital neuralgia, a fancy way of saying that you’re impinging on nerves near the back of your head. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

How to make it better

Next time you go into Upward-Facing Dog, be extra mindful of your neck. If it’s crunchier than your vegan, gluten-free, cage-free, organic granola, you’ve gone too far.  Getting a safe and comfortable neck position is a matter of tuning in to how your neck feels.

Your head doesn’t need to tilt back dramatically to express Upward-Facing Dog. Remember to press your heart forward first. Extend tall through your spine before gently tilting your head backward. It can help to envision something fragile resting on the back of your neck. You don’t want to crush the grapefruit or kitten perched back there.

You can even practice this head maneuver while you’re sitting upright. Place a palm at the back of your neck, and gently press your heart forward while tilting your head backward. If you’re crushing your hand or your throat becomes tight, you’re taking it too far.

Note that some postures, such as Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Matsyasana (Fish Pose) can have an aggressive-looking neck extension in their full expression. There are specific alignment cues that can make those asanas safe for some people, but that’s a tale for another day.

3. Chatur-wrongo

It’s so easy to misalign in chaturanga dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). Building the strength for this asana takes time, but your shoulders will thank you for taking the time to do it right.

Where things go wrong

Most misalignments in chaturanga come from issues with core engagement. When you’re in the full expression of this posture, there should be a line of energy running from the crown of your head to the ends of your heels. A sagging core strains your back and puts too much pressure on your rotator cuffs. This destabilizes your shoulder girdle, and it can cause you to dump weight into the delicate bones in your wrists. Ouch.

Another tendency is for the elbows move away from the body. With your elbows away from your body, you’re asking your shoulders to pick up the slack. The shoulders are way to finicky to be trifled with in this way. Sooner or later, this is a misalignment that will hurt you.

How to make it better

When you catch yourself hanging off your shoulders or struggling to maintain the integrity of your spine, the first step is to dial it back a notch. Practice plank and chaturanga with bent knees on the ground. You’re working the same muscles, but you’ve decreased the amount of weight your upper body and core must support.

If your elbows are trying to flap away from your body as if to take flight, migrate south for the winter, and never do another chaturanga, don’t worry. Reposition your arms so that your elbows graze your rib cage when you transition from plank to chaturanga.

This position might feel weird at first– especially if you’re a fan of the elbows-out military push up. Practice by sitting up in your chair with your elbows pressed against the sides of your ribs and your palms spread in front of your shoulders. Press your hands away from you (as if you’re doing a sweet air-plank), and then work your elbows back toward your ribs at a ninety-degree angle.

Don’t be embarrassed if anyone catches you doing this experiment. They probably already saw you with all those props earlier, and then they noticed you checking out your neck in Upward-Facing Dog. They know you’re deep in the throes of yogic study.

Be true and kind

I’ve had my fair share of klutzy moments in yoga, but I’ve come to accept that I’m no ballerina. It’s not necessary to look like the yogis of Instagram to have a strong, safe, and beautiful practice. The most important alignment you’ll have to master is the alignment between your body, mind, and breath.

Remember that the first yama (moral restraint) is ahimsa (non-violence). Is something about your alignment causing harm? To prevent injury, we must embody satya (truthfulness). What’s true for you and your body in the moment?

Luckily, The House of Yogi is full of supportive teachers who want to help you find the safest and fullest expression of this practice for you. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Get some recommended reading, attend a workshop, or set up a private yoga lesson. Do weird experiments that make you think about how these asanas work in your body. Have fun with it. You can’t be bad at yoga if you show up for yourself and approach every asana with a beginner’s mind.

Want to dive deeper into your practice? Expand your knowledge with THOY this fall.

Angelina Phebus is a freelance writer, a purveyor of stories, and a voracious reader.  She is looking forward to using what she has learned in YTT to help people realize their gifts through consistent yoga practice, whether that is in a class setting or through writing.  Connect with her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/angelina.phebus), or check out her blog (https://angelinaphebus.wordpress.com/).

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