The #1 Yoga Mistake You’re Making
- Written By:Danielle Diamond
People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons: injuries, stress, tight hamstrings, or possibly, to meet hot fellow members. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter why you get there, but that you keep at it. Yoga does a heck of a lot more than help you touch your toes, but because most teachers focus solely on the physical practice, you miss out on so many other incredible benefits that will serve you in more ways than getting a yoga butt. So what’s the #1 mistake you’re making when practicing yoga? You’re only practicing on your mat.
Don’t get me wrong — flowing through a vinyasa practice has its benefits, but the poses are only one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and I’ve yet to see them transform a life like the other seven I’m about to share with you.
The Eight Limbs are an incredible blueprint for how to live in the present, not sweat the small stuff, let go of what’s not serving you, to be content where you are, and to be happy for those around you, even if it seems like they have “more.”
The Eight Limbs of Yoga work together as a team. They start off with practices that are more about being more mindful of our actions than perfecting the poses, and they’re taught to be followed in order. So ironically, nailing the first two limbs that deal with personal growth and serving others is more important than getting into that handstand you’re coveting on Instagram — because asana, or the actual poses, are number three.
1. THE YAMAS
The Yamas are described as five self-restraints that teach us self-discipline. Ever heard of the Ten Commandments? These are just like them minus the religious aspect, and they relate to how we can best co-exist peacefully with our neighbors.
2. THE NIYAMAS
The Niyamas are five observances to guide us along our yoga practice and they’re important to be learned before stepping foot on a mat.
- Self Study
Can you see why it’s been said to practice those first two limbs before moving on? They have so much to do with how you treat people, and yourself, that these mental practices are given much more value than balancing on your head, as they should. Yogi masters believe that once you begin to practice the Yamas and the Niyamas, you are ready to get “physical” on the mat.
Asana is the physical part of yoga; the poses that most westerners are familiar with. The number one thing to remember when doing physical yoga is that the posture should be steady and comfortable, and the breath flowing freely- nothing else matters.
Prayama, or breath regulation, is one of the most underrated aspects of yoga, yet one of the most powerful. The breath takes precedence above the postures, as it’s usually a mirror of what’s going on in your mind. If you’re breathing is steady and comfortable than your pose probably is as well. If you’re holding your breath or gasping for breath then you’re probably pushing yourself past where your body should go.
Think about how regulating your breath off the mat can save you from many uncomfortable situations. Taking five deep breaths before reacting to a situation can usually keep you from saying or doing something you’ll later regret. And taking big, deep inhales and exhales can calm your nervous system and in turn, your mind, when in a stressful situation
Pratyhara, or sense withdraw, is all about focusing your attention inward as to not be distracted by each buzz on your phone or mosquito biting your arm. On the mat, can you stand in Warrior II with your thigh on fire and stay focused on your breath without constantly having the urge to straighten your leg? Great, then you’re already practicing this limb. Concentration is a constant battle with the senses, so turning inward essentially prepares you for the next three limbs.
Dharana, or concentration, leads us closer to peace. It could be a candle flame, a mantra, or a picture — whatever it is, you practice concentrating so intently on that object that time disappears. All this concentration is a set of training wheels for meditation, which is next.
Dhyana, or meditation, is uninterrupted focus - where the real magic happens. So what are you thinking of? Some teachers say nothing at all, but for beginners that can be discouraging as it takes years to have glimpses of concentrating on absolutely nothing without any thoughts of disruption. I’ve been taught and teach to use the same tools that you use to begin concentrating- your breath, a mantra, a candle flame, etc.
Then what’s the difference you ask? Think of your object of focus as water flowing from a pitcher — in concentration that flow stops and starts and stops and starts while pouring into a glass, and in meditation it continually flows freely.
Samadhi, or bliss, is when they say you have reached enlightenment, the ultimate goal. (Uhh, I’m still working on this last one.) But seriously, instead of looking at it like I’m aiming at some unattainable nirvana, I’ve made my goal something much more tangible, that of being present in each and every moment and in every interaction, and on some days I reach it, but not every day.
I promise, even just practicing those first two limbs will have a profound effect on your mental well being if you begin to integrate them into your daily life. It takes practice to stay calm on your cushion—and in life, but if you ditch the notion of yoga just happening on your mat, you’ll notice a radical change in yourself and how you see the world around you.
Once you put all eight limbs into practice you’ll marvel at how you no longer are irritated by your kids fighting over the X-Box, or your jerky co-worker who stole your idea and presented to your boss as his. Even the five pounds you gained on vacation won’t put you into a tailspin, because once you start living in the present without reacting to every outside obstacle, then you look at situations for what they are, figure out a way to handle them and move on. No complaining or eating a pint of ice cream necessary.