Yoga is more than just striking a pose. But how you strike that pose is nonetheless critical.
Maintaining correct form is essential not only for building a solid yoga practice but also because improperly doing the same yoga poses repeatedly — even the most basic ones — can lead to strains, sprains and chronic aches.
Yet it's easy to go awry. Many popular classes are overcrowded, making it difficult for teachers to correct every swayed back and hunched shoulder. Even in smaller groups, a misaligned leg can easily go unnoticed. And then there's the fact that less experienced students sometimes try to emulate more practiced ones, over-stretching muscles or getting joints out of alignment in the process.
As for doing yoga only at home with no supervision? That can be a recipe for disaster.
"Yoga is really about getting to know your body," says Christine Burke, co-owner and director of Liberation Yoga in Los Angeles. "A lot of us don't have that awareness of what something is supposed to feel like when it's right."
That can make going from bad form to good form sometimes feel uncomfortable, she says. Occasionally the body must get used to the new position before the resulting aches and pains go away.
We talked to three yoga teachers about the most common mistakes students make while doing basic poses. They explain the potential harm and offer easy ways to correct improper form.