• Wear comfortable clothing in which you can move freely.
• Yoga and Pilates is normally practiced barefoot.
• Ideally, practice on an empty stomach: try not to eat 2-3 hours before a Yoga or Pilates class.
• Practice in a well ventilated room that is neither too hot nor too cold.
• Always do a few warm-up movements, combined with deep breathing, before going into deeper Yoga or Pilates poses.
• If time is short, remember that it is better to do a few postures slowly and well with focussed awareness, than to do many poses hastily.
• Never strain or struggle to get into a pose. Move into and out of the postures gently, smoothly and with awareness.
• Do not push through tightness; it’s much more effective, and much safer to relax into a posture with awareness and with the breath. This usually allows for a deeper opening.
• Use common sense: honour alternative poses suggested for a pose or breathing exercise if a condition, usually physical, indicates that you should not do a particular pose or pranayama, even if you “feel up to it.”
• Never compete. Don’t expose yourself to injury by competing with others or with yourself. Pride of body or of superior flexibility has no place in Yoga or Pilates. Progress in Yoga or Pilates is not absolute, but directional – it’s a matter of taking your own next steps. If a pose is too difficult, rather do an easier variation of the pose.
• To the best of your ability, breath diaphragmatically with full slow breaths and with total awareness while holding a pose, unless the pose calls for a different, specific type of breathing.
• In all poses, avoid swayback (over-arching the lower back) by tucking the tailbone in when necessary to lengthen the lower spine. In some cases, contracting the lower abdomen seems a more natural movement and will accomplish much the same thing.
• Remember that your neck is part of your spine. Keep it in line with the rest of the spine to avoid compressing the cervical vertebrae or discs.
• Avoid twisting your knees; they’re hinge joints, made to fold with little or no rotation.
• Avoid tensing the shoulders; keep the back of the neck extended and the shoulder blades released down the back without straining.
Guidelines and Precautions for Yoga and Pilates Classes
Precautions to avoid injury
• Standing poses: Do not hyperextend the knees (i.e., don’t push back on the kneecaps, “locking” the knee). If you have this tendency, either pull the kneecaps up by engaging the quadriceps muscles, or keep the knees slightly bent.
• Standing poses with knee bent: When one leg is supporting most of your weight in the pose for example in warrior poses or lunges, keep the knee over the ankle (lower leg vertical), or for extra protection, slightly behind the ankle (so that you don’t come so far down into the pose). Do not allow the knee to go beyond or forward of the ankle.
• Forward bends: Keep the spine long; activate the pelvic floor muscles or Mula Bandha, drawing it upwards towards your navel and fold at the hip joints. It’s okay to let a healthy spine round slightly, but only through relaxation and with complete awareness. Avoid entering or exiting the pose with a rounded spine and straight knees; this can compress the inter-vertebral discs and pinch the spinal nerves. For the greatest safety, keep the knees slightly bent throughout the pose.
• Backward bends: Protect the lower back (lumbar spine) by tucking the pelvis (that is lengthening the tailbone downward) releasing the shoulder blades away from the ears, and lifting through the sternum/heart area. Let the curvature in the neck match or if your neck needs support, be less than the curvature in the rest of the spine.
• Side bends: Keep the underside of your rib cage open so as not to close off your breathing or overstretch the lateral flexor muscles of the spine.
• Twisting poses: Keep the spine lengthened and the neck and head in line as you exhale into your twist. If the spine begins to round, back off a little from the twist. This helps prevent compression of the spinal discs and nerves.
• Inverted poses: Never put undue weight or stress on the neck and do not remove the natural curvature of the cervical spine. If your arms and shoulders are not strong enough to bear the weight of your body, then it’s best to practice simpler variations of the inverted poses until you’re able to do the classical versions.
• When entering cross-legged positions, be sure that all rotation occurs in the hip joint, not in the knee. Lotus pose and even half lotus pose is not for beginners unless the hips already allow the required opening rotation of the thighs naturally. This opening should not be forced.