There is always room for improvement on the mat regardless of whether you're a newbie or seasoned yogi. Avoiding these common mistakes will strengthen your yoga practice and make space for more growth.
1. Making faces.
When the most challenging part of the yoga class arrives, I often see students wrinkling their eyebrows or pursing their lips in concentration. They're not doing it on purpose, it's just what naturally happens when our attention is focused elsewhere. The problem with making faces is that it usually indicates the breathing has been interrupted. Either the breath is being held, or it's turned into weak, rapid breathing. The ideal breath for yoga is powerful, deep and fluid, so consciously checking in to see what your face is doing is important. Strive to keep the face relaxed and neutral. Unless you're in laughter yoga class, in which case you should make all the funny faces you can.
2. Not finding your edge.
The most important thing to remember about a yoga class is that it's about you. It's not about the instructor or the studio or anyone else- this is your time. So to reap the benefits it's important to find your "edge". The edge is that sweet spot between the known and the unknown, that spot just before pain. Try to hover in that spot when you're in each pose. Often times I see students either going way too far- grunting, sweating, pushing themselves farther than they're able to go. This is an obvious problem due to the risk of injury. On the other side of the spectrum, I see students who just kind of go through the poses, doing them just to do them but without an inward sense of where they are in their practice. Looking all around the room like ho-hum, here I am in warrior sort of thing. The trouble with this is that they've got the ability to go a little deeper, activate the arms more, etc. Finding your edge goes hand in hand with being in the present moment, and that's the best way to improve your practice.
3. Comparing yourself to others.
Yoga, as you probably know, requires both physical and mental discipline, and there is no greater yoga challenge than being in a room full of students and trying to stay focused on yourself. The person to your right reeks of last night's beer, and the person to your left is turning herself into a pretzel and you're just trying to stay in tree pose without falling over. It's normal to be distracted and start judging or comparing yourself to others. The best advice I can give is to try your hardest to let it go. Watch your thoughts go by like clouds without paying any attention, and turn inward. When you're able to truly focus on your breath and yourself, the yoga practice transforms from an exercise class to a time of self-reflection. And that can be scary because that's when bottled up emotions come up, or you might suddenly feel sick, or maybe you'll feel nothing at all. Whatever happens (or doesn't happen), be in the moment, stay present, and let it go without any sense of judgement or comparison to what anyone else is experiencing.
4. Skipping out on savasana.
I mean, I get it. Class is almost over and there are newsfeeds to check and errands to run. But it's five or ten minutes of laying there and the benefits are tremendous. A quality savasana can relieve tension and stress, lower blood pressure, help insomnia and headaches, and can feel as rejuvenating as a good night's sleep. That's worth sticking around for, my friend.