How often do you just go with the flow during a yoga class and not really question why you’re doing something? There are so many facets of a class that sometimes you don’t think twice about an ache or pain, ask how to properly execute a transition pose or even get educated on yoga in general.
Here are five questions you probably never thought to ask your yoga instructor.
1. Why Do We Do the Half Lift?
Yogis practice the half lift for two reasons. The first is to lengthen the spine. When you lift the torso from your forward fold, you’re better able to straighten your spine, open your chest and engage your core. The goal is to maintain the lengthened spine and engaged core as you refold over your legs so that you’re getting a deeper stretch for both the hamstrings and the lower back.
The second reason is that it helps prepare the body to either step back to plank or hop into Chaturanga. The straight spine, open chest and engaged core are all alignment points that we want to find in plank pose and Chaturanga as well. When you do the half lift, you find the integrity you need in the upper body and are ready to bear weight on the arms and shoulders as you step or hop back.
2. Why Do My Wrists Hurt in Down Dog?
In a typical yoga class, you’re often supporting and leveraging your body weight on your hands. Just like your arm and shoulder muscles had to build strength for you to be able to hold plank or practice Chaturanga correctly, you have to build strength in the wrists.
You may notice some discomfort as you begin yoga or when you’re learning something new like a handstand or Crow pose. To help build wrist strength and reduce soreness, make sure you’re spreading your fingers wide. Press down through the pads of each finger and knuckle and the center of your palm to evenly distribute weight into the whole hand when you’re in plank or Down Dog.
Also, you can always rest! Come down to your hands and knees or to Child’s pose if you feel like your wrists need a break — especially if you’re new to yoga or haven’t been to class in a while.
If you feel a shooting pain in your wrists or start to notice the pain creeping up the arm, it’s an indication that something is wrong, and you should speak to your doctor. Don’t push through this type of pain. If you’re feeling pain in your wrists due to an old injury, let your teacher know and you can practice plank and Down Dog on your forearms.
3. Why Do We Practice Yoga Barefoot?
Practicing barefoot allows you to stretch and strengthen muscles in the feet, ankles and lower legs. When barefoot, you achieve a better understanding of how you should stand and how your feet should contact the floor, which affects alignment and posture all the way up the body. Healthy feet result in better balance on and off the mat, better posture and less pain in the feet, knees and back.
4. Should I Clean My Mat? How Do I Clean It?
It’s recommended to clean your mat from time to time to prevent bacteria from building up on it, which can make it smell or make you break out. (Remember: You rest your head and face on your mat, and your feet are all over it as well.)
How often you clean it depends on how often you use it. If you’re practicing daily or you practice hot yoga, clean it once a week. If you’re practicing a little less frequently, once every two to three weeks is probably fine.
Many companies sell mat sprays, but you can make your own by mixing a teaspoon of tea tree oil into a spray bottle filled with water. Shake it up and spray liberally, then hang your mat to dry. That’s it! Tea tree oil is naturally antibacterial, and because this mixture is chemical-free, it won’t break down your mat.
5. What’s With the Prayer Hands?
In Western culture, this hand position is often associated with prayer or religion. In Eastern cultures it is known as “anjali mudra” and has a different meaning and use. The Sanskrit word “anjali” means offering and “mudra” means seal or sign.
This gesture is often used at the start or end of a yoga class in conjunction with the phrase “namaste,” which means “the light in me honors the light in you.” This phrase sums up one of the spiritual aspects of yoga: seeing the divine, or the light, in everything and everyone. It’s a sign of peace that can be extended from anyone to anyone.
This mudra is also helpful in opening the chest, engaging the shoulders and broadening the collarbone and upper back. This is particularly helpful in twisting poses when you want to keep the upper body square, open and stable so you can find the twist in your core. Full-body engagement is crucial to balance poses like Warrior III and Tree, so the stability this mudra creates in the shoulders offers more grounding.
About the Author
Rebecca Weible is the founder of Yo Yoga! in New York City. She's recognized by the Yoga Alliance as an experienced teacher due to the combination of her extensive training and hours taught. Yo Yoga! is also the first studio in New York to offer weekly Sound Off Experience yoga classes. Rebecca has been featured on PureWow, Men’s Journal, the New York Times, Yoga Digest, Brit+Co, Rodale Wellness and many more.