A lot of people new to practicing yoga have similar concerns & queries, below I’ve curated a number of the most commonly asked that can be safely & sanely answered online.
Please note that there are queries which are best answered on an individual basis, so if you can’t see your question below, feel free to get in touch and ask me!
- Alignment (also check out: Props (Blocks, Straps, etc))
- Balance (also check out: Feet & Pāda Bandha)
- Bhāṇḍa & the Core
- Caturaṅga Daṇḍāsana
- Feelings & Emotions During Practice
- Feet & Pāda Bandha
- Headstands & Handstands
- Hands & Hasta Bandha
- Increase Flexibility
- Injury & Pain
- Joints – Clicks, Pops, and Cracks
- Mental Health
- Practice Type, Length, & Frequency
- Props (Blocks, Straps, etc)
- Weight Loss
- What to Wear and Bring to Class
Alignment is an important part of your āsana practice, if you are incorrectly aligned or forcing your body further than it’s ready you can cause harm & injury to your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia – not forgetting your mental health, too!
Safe alignment in all āsana is vitally important, however your body expresses the intended shape, and whether you choose to use props during your practice. The expression of the āsana you choose should always support your body so that you can have a safe & fulfilling practice.
Generally speaking, you should always keep your back long rather than rounded – bending the knees as much as needed if appropriate, or supporting yourself with the use of props.
See also: Props (Blocks, Straps, etc).
Medical issues notwithstanding, your balance is likely to improve with regular & consistent practice, but in the meantime you can use something solid & stable to support you – such as a wall, chair, or other piece of appropriate furniture. It’s also important to keep your dṛṣṭi (gaze) on one point, engage pāda bhāṇḍa in the standing foot or feet, and keep the knee soft.
See also: Feet & Pāda Bandha.
BHĀṆḌA & the Core
The bhāṇḍa are muscular locks used during āsana (posture) and prāṇāyām (breathwork) practice to control the flow of prāṇa, or energy.
Using bhāṇḍAna affects the nervous, circulatory, respiratory, endocrine, and energetic systems, and can have long-term effects on our physical bodies. They are a wonderful tool, but if you are at all unsure please work with a yoga teacher to learn about the correct usage & application of the bhāṇḍa.
As well as hasta and pāda bhāṇḍa, there are three interior, or body, locks (mūla, uḍḍīyana, and jalandhara) which – when used together – are known as mahā bhāṇḍa, or the great lock.
Many people get confused between mūla bhāṇḍa (pelvic floor) and uḍḍīyana bhāṇḍa (abdominals, the core, or “abs”) – with many women being told to solely engage mūla bhāṇḍa in place of uḍḍīyana bhāṇḍa when querying what “activate the core” means. Obviously, the pelvic floor is somewhat involved in core activation, but in just a small part; please remember that overuse and/or incorrect use of the pelvic floor can cause physical issues just as underuse does, so If you’re at all confused about the bhāṇḍa, it’s far better not to intentionally utilise them, than to use them incorrectly.
You can learn correct usage of the bhāṇḍa from almost any yoga teacher who teaches or incorporates them in their classes or workshops.
If you’ve never practiced yoga before, or you’ve had a lengthy break, it’s very likely you will struggle with “yoga breathing” when you begin (again) – and that’s OK!
Your respiratory rate is likely to decrease while your respiratory volume (or lung capacity, if you prefer) is likely to increase with regular & consistent practice; in the meantime, the most important thing is to keep breathing – try to take the inhalation or exhalation as directed by me, or the app or video you’re following, but in between please do breathe as normally and much as you need, this will keep the muscles flexible and allow your āsana practice to work some of its magic!
In your classes with me, we’ll typically begin with a prāṇāyāma exercise, and I‘ll likely remind you use ujjāyī breath throughout the lesson as much as you’re able to – but always remember the important part is that the breath should be free-flowing and smooth.
There is always the option of focusing on a breath work practice, either while you have a break in your āsana practice, or alongside it as a separate practice.
Caturaṅga Daṇḍāsana is a full-body āsana that requires strength, balance, core engagement, and coordination; it takes time and consistent practice to be able to perform correctly & safely.
It’s not a push-up, although it can be argued they look similar: in a push-up the hands typically are wider and the body moves closer to the ground; in caturaṅga the hands are directly under the shoulders, and the body should never be so low that the shoulder blades move below the elbows – the arms should form an “L” shape with a 90’ angle at the elbow – lastly, the elbows should be kept close to the rib cage as you lower to ensure the body is kept in alignment for ease of movement through to your next pose.
While you’re working towards a full, and safe, caturaṅga daṇḍāsana it’s advisable for ease and safety, to step back lightly, gently place the knees on the mat, and then lower your body down in a straight line and with control. Floating back becomes an option once you can lightly land in a perfect caturaṅga – you shouldn’t ever jump back to caturaṅga, as doing so creates a lot of pressure & jarring on the joints & body.
Knees-chin-chest is not an advisable modification as it’s far too easy to reinforce misalignment, and doing this also places unnecessary pressure on both the cervical & lumbar spine as well as the shoulder socket.
Feelings & Emotions During Practice
Memories & emotions are stored in the tissues of our bodies; they affect our mindset and even our posture; yoga can help to loosen and free these, but sometimes a particular emotion or memory may need to be expressed physically to fully release it. It’s entirely normal – some people experience it frequently, and others less so.
Feet & PĀDA BHĀṆḌA
NB: I don’t have any formal training in this area – the below is based on my personal experience, alongside the experiences of my students and other yoga practitioners, and barefoot/barefoot shoe enthusiasts I’ve spoken to on this topic.
Many people find when they first begin a yoga practice that they will frequently get cramp in their feet, or sore or painful feet during or after their practice.
Most people’s feet are actually hugely underused, with the muscles weakened due to the shoes that are typically available into which feet are shoved for most of the day. These cramps are simply your body’s way of showing you that your foot muscles are weak and lacking strength & flexibility.
The first step to helping your feet passively re-gain (or perhaps even gain) more strength & flexibility is to free them from their prisons more often: shoes, slippers, and even socks; you may also find it worthwhile researching barefoot shoes.
There are specific exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles in your feet, but specifically relating to the standing – and especially balancing – āsana in your practice pāda bhāṇḍa (foot lock) should always be activated: this is where the joints of the big & little toes, and the back of the heel firmly root into the floor, with the ankle stacked directly over the heel, toes are free, and the arch of the foot feels lifted. To ensure the toes are not bearing weight, you can lift and spread them, then lightly place them back to the floor; you shouldn’t dig your toes in to your mat or the floor during yoga your practice – if you need support to balance you can always use a wall, or solid piece of furniture, or a stable friend or teacher.
Headstands & Handstands
Although impressive, and with much importance placed on performing headstands & handstands by a lot of practitioners, such āsana are less about wildly flinging your body about in space while hoping for the best (and risking injury!), and much more about control & mastery of both the mind & body.
As they are so often misunderstood, they typically are best & safest learned under the guidance & supervision of a teacher, who can assist & advise on your form as needed, rather than through apps or videos that are incapable of knowing if you’re being safe in your practice or potentially about to injure yourself.
Hands & Hasta BHĀṆḌA
In yoga, there’s a specific way to use our hands to ensure safety and stability when they’re on the mat – this is called hasta bhāṇḍa, or the hand lock.
Your middle finger should be pointing straight forward, with weight distributed around the edges of the palm; our fingers are flat and each knuckle of the fingers gently presses into the mat (think like if someone were to try and lift one of your fingers they wouldn’t be able to); the centre of your palm should be free of the mat – as if there’s a little puff of air under it, and there should be a little more weight in the thumb & index finger to ensure the weight distribution is correct through your arm bones. The inner elbows should face towards the front of the mat, and the upper arms rotate outwards, to facilitate that and so that the upper back is broadened.
Many hypermobile people practice yoga safely, I’d always recommend anyone who’s hypermobile to consult their doctor and/or medical team before beginning a practice, and ensure any teacher who’s lessons or workshops you attend is aware of your situation, along with any specific requirements and/or contraindications you may know you have.
The only way to increase flexibility is to practice regularly and consistently, ensure you’re aligning your body, activating the appropriate muscle(s) for each āsana, keep breathing, and understand that the end point for your body may not be where you’d like it to be – but it is where it is.
You also must remember that your body is the sum total of everything that has happened to it up to the point you decided to practice yoga regularly, as well as the effects of the time each day you’re not practicing āsana. Any injuries, musculature imbalances, long periods of time spent sitting, as well as your skeletal structure and what your tissues can & will allow – and more – will also affect your daily practice and fullest expression of each asana.
Injury & Pain
When we feel pain or suspect we’ve sustained an injury, it can be tempting to Google our symptoms, or ask in a loosely-related forum, Discord server, or Facebook group – and while that can make for an interesting discussion, you should always remember that – typically – you are unlikely to be speaking with appropriately trained professionals, and if there does happen to be a person with relevant qualifications, they will be unlikely to share their informed opinion in such a space.
With that said, an acute (serious and/or sudden) injury should always be checked out & treated as an urgent matter at an emergency medical facility; any other injury or pain (chronic, overuse, etc) that doesn’t appear to be improving with rest and appropriate at-home treatment, should be seen by a medical professional in the first instance, to get personal, individualised advice. You may then be referred, and/or choose to see, a physical therapist, bodyworker, or similar, who may also give you specific advice to follow to aid your recovery.
Yoga can be a fantastic tool to support your mental health, as long as you have a well-rounded practice which you enjoy that inspires you & allows focus on each of the eight limbs. This may require the support of a teacher, and will take time for the benefits to become fully apparent – how much is, of course, dependant upon many factors.
Joints – Clicks, Pops, and Cracks
Typically, when you traction, lengthen, or extend a joint you’re creating space and this may lead to noises emanating from the joint(s) in motion.
As long as there’s no pain, it’s most likely to be gaseous bubbles in your synovial fluid forming & releasing and nothing to worry about (here’s a short SciShow video with more information but be warned: don’t click the link if you don’t want to hear someone cracking their joints!); if you have a sensation in the joint with the crack, then it’s more likely to be your ligaments shifting or snapping over each other. Lastly, it may be subluxation as the joint shifts in or out of alignment.
In short: your body has simply moved into that space, and these noises may be eliminated by finding & integrating a new pattern – you may like to see your preferred bodyworker of choice to assist with this, and doing so may or may not reduce or eliminate these noises.
If there is any pain along with the sound please see a medical professional – especially if the pain came when or shortly after a compressive force was applied to the joint; if, instead, the noise came as a result of creating space in the joint, your body has likely simply moved into that space.
Practice Type, Length, & Frequency
The question of practice type (or style), length, & frequency is a wholly personal one: some people are content or only able to complete a passive practice for 10 minutes a few times week; other people enjoy a longer and more active āsana practice, sometimes multiple times in a day, every day; similarly, other people practice yoga every day, but have not once set foot on a yoga mat or ever assumed an āsana.
We should always listen to our bodies, and practice in a way that benefits us, and fits in with our lifestyle; that someone else perhaps practices very strongly for four or five hours a day, or passively ten minutes twice a week is none of our concern; nor does it have any bearing on our personal ability, capability, or desire to complete our own practice.
Always remember to check with your GP, midwife, or other relevant medical professional to get advice based on your personal circumstances. The below is just a guideline and not personalised medical advice.
As long as you already had a solid practice in place before your pregnancy began and you don’t overexert yourself, especially during the first trimester, then you should be fine to keep practicing (so basically don’t increase your practice in any way). It’s recommend to avoid closed twists (they can generally be substituted with an open twist), widen the space between your legs as needed, avoid lying on your stomach, and to prop yourself up slightly for reclined āsana from sometime during the second trimester (as you start to feel uncomfortable laying flat). During the third trimester, it’s very important not to overstretch, especially around the pelvic area, as the hormone relaxin will will begin to relax your ligaments in preparation for labour.
Intense abdominal exercises should be stopped, as well as most forms of prāṇāyāma. Unless you’re under the instruction of a teacher with pre-natal training, only slow, deep breathing should be practiced throughout your pregnancy; kumbhaka should also be skipped.
If you have any further or more specific queries, I’d recommend finding a locally experienced & qualified teacher or studio to take at least a few lessons with if you’re able to, as well as discussing them with your midwife and any other relevant medical professional(s).
Straps, blocks, bolsters, blankets, and other props are wonderful additions to any yoga practice to help maintain form, physical integrity, alignment, and safety.
Typically speaking, blocks are used to bridge the gap between your hand(s) and the floor; straps are use to enable binding or in place of holding the feet; and blankets & bolsters are used to support the body, but if you’re at all unsure how to use any prop to your best advantage, a good teacher should offer appropriate options in their classes.
Your body is a whole unit, but each side is different so you’ll find that balance, the ability to bind, and indeed even some āsana will feel different on one side than the other, that’s perfectly normal – even if it appears to be the same to the outside world, you’ll likely still feel a difference internally.
Lots of people ask “how many calories does yoga burn”, or “what’s the best type of yoga to practice to lose weight”.
This may not be the answer you were looking for, but bodies are not that simple! Yes, movement is a vital part of a healthy & happy body for a lot of people, but we must first remember that weight loss and body composition changes are primarily achieved through diet. We must also remember that the primary goal of yoga is spiritual transformation, rather than an improvement of health – although for many this is a welcome bonus.
Whether you want to run, bike, practice yoga, or do nothing at all, the starting point is always what you use to fuel your body. You must ensure you’re giving your body enough fuel, in the form of calories; if you’re unsure you can use a “total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE) calculator – this will tell you the minimum amount of calories you need to consume every day to power your body. Remember, too, that any extra activity will also need extra calories.
Additionally, there are numerous factors that impact how many calories any activity burns including (but definitely not limited to): age, gender, current weight, genetics, hydration levels, your metabolic rate, stress, your gut microbiome, how much sleep you’re getting, and your choice of fuel.
What you’re fuelling your body with is very important – whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, or you eat steak for every meal you should also be aware of the types of calories you’re consuming – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating cake, crisps, or whatever your preferred treat is that society likes to try and tell us is “naughty” or “bad for us”, but we must remember to consume everything in moderation – if all we consume is chocolate, sweets, and fizzy drinks then it’s no surprise we’ll see changes we may not like in our body, but we must also remember not to cut them out completely.
For many people, total deprivation can easily lead to an over-indulgence, whereas a considered approach to certain foods means we don’t feel as if we’re lacking, but always have a choice – choosing how we want to fuel our bodies, as well as how we want to feel as we inhabit them.
This is where ‘macros’ come in, which is short for macronutrients, these are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. All three nutrients are needed for a healthy body, despite what some fad diets claim, although there are two “forms” of carbohydrate – the more processed or refined types (found in white bread, white pasta, white rice, as well as crisps and many similar snacks) is a lot less nutritious & filling than their wholegrain counterparts (found in wholegrain products, brown bread, brown rice, etc). A modern approach to healthy eating is often called an “80/20” diet – that is consuming about 80% of your diet as healthful, nutritious, filling food; and around 20% as what would otherwise be seen as “treat” or “junk” foods.
Remember: you can’t out-train a bad diet.
(Primarily) women & femme-presenting folx: sometimes you’ll read or be told that you can (or should) consume as few as 1,200Kcals per day – please do not do this! 1,200Kcals is the amount of calories required by a coma patient – active, moving people need more than this to simply exist, never mind anything else!
If you consistently under-fuel your body as you try to lose weight, in an act of preservation your body will try to hold on to as many calories as it can; hence, it’s far better to eat a little more daily and lose weight more gradually than you’d perhaps like to (AKA have a healthy lifestyle) than to “diet” and gain at least as much weight back when your diet is “over”.
Also we must be aware that it’s not possible to spot-reduce fat, the body will decide what’s needed & where irrespective of what the ego might prefer; but, with the right diet, plenty of movement, and enough time, anything is possible if it’s something your body is genetically able to both achieve and sustain.
What to Wear and Take to Class
There’s a wide range of clothing options available for our active endeavours, and your main priority should be your comfort as well as safety. Flowing trousers and long, trailing sleeves can look nice on social media but aren’t necessarily safest or best for your regular practice. For all of my classes I recommend wearing comfortable clothing that will allow you to sit, move, and stretch fully and safely.
It would be wise to have a lidded & closed bottle of water near you; you may also like to have a pair of socks, jumper or other coverup and/or a blanket for śavasāna.
- For people who prefer to wear looser clothing: please be aware that at times during practice loose clothing may ride up or fall down, and you may therefore like to ensure it’s long enough to secure if desired e.g. tucking a loose t-shirt into your waistband; you may also consider wearing something more close-fitting underneath e.g. cycling shorts under running-style shorts
- For people who prefer to wear tighter clothing: for your comfort, you may also like to wear a second, looser layer, over the top to keep warm at the beginning & end of your class.
Overall remember you know your own body so use your own good judgement.
If you have a question that I haven’t included here, please do ask me!