9 Examples of Bad Yoga Poses and How to Fix Them

9 Bad Yoga Poses and How to Fix Them

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This picture is a prime example of the kind of aspirational yoga photo we've all gotten used to seeing, right? Gorgeous exotic setting, classically beautiful woman in form-fitting clothes assuming a posture of serenity. Except this woman looks anything but serene to me. She looks profoundly uncomfortable. There's no way she can sit in this position for meditation. 

We can argue the details about whether there is a "right" way to do any yoga pose, but there are definitely wrong ways to do them. Ways that perpetuate postural discomfort instead of alleviating it and ways that put you at greater risk for injury. (For a fuller discussion of this, read Why Alignment Matters). This is particularly important for people who practice at home without regular feedback from an instructor. Let's take a look at some found yoga photos that illustrate precarious alignment and talk about ways to improve them. 

First off, take this sukasana. Sukasana is any comfortable cross-legged seated position. The way to make this position comfortable is to take a much padding (blankets, blocks, bolsters) under your seat as is necessary to raise your hips above your knees. This creates a easeful position that you can hold for a few minutes at a time. People with tight hips will require more padding, but usually find that this area begins to open up with consistent practice.

What to Do: Sit on something that raises your hips above your knees.
Click here to see a better sukasana.

Bad Alignment in Downward Facing Dog

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This photo illustrates two very common mistakes in one of yoga's most common poses: downward facing dog. Firstly, the heels should always be sinking towards the floor. Whether it's actually a goal for them to reach the floor is debated in yoga circles, but the pose should definitely not be done up on the balls of your feet as shown here. That position make it difficult for this to be a resting pose by making the trajectory of the pose forward instead of backward. It also doesn't stretch the calves. The second problem here is that the stance is too short, meaning that the hands and feet are too close together. To find the right distance between hands and feet, come into a plank position. Then push back to downward dog without moving your hands and feet closer together.

What to Do: Sink the heels toward the floor. Use plank to measure the proper position of hands and feet.
Click here to see a better downward facing dog.

Bad Alignment in Plank

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Can you spot the problem with this plank pose? In plank, you should be able to trace a straight line from head to heels. Here, the butt is too high which causes the shoulders to be pulled back from their position over the wrists. Letting the hips sag too low can also be an issue, but in that case it will push the shoulders forward.

What to Do: If your hips are coming too high or too low because you need to build strength, drop your knees to the mat and maintain your straight alignment from head to knees. 
Click here to see a better plank.

Bad Alignment in Chaturanga Dandasana

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Chaturanga dandasana is not the limbo. It's not about "how low can you go." So while this fellow has his arms set up correctly, taking chaturanga all the way to the floor is a recipe for shoulder injury when repeated over and over. Consider how many times you do this pose in a typical vinyasa class and then take it a step further and think about future years of healthy practice. The safest method here is to lower only until the shoulders are level with your elbow, making a nice right angle of support with your arms. Many people would do well to keep the shoulders above elbow-level as they build strength.

What to Do: Keep your shoulders in line with or above the level of your bent elbows.
Click here to see a better chaturanga dandasana.

Bad Alignment in Upward Facing Dog

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A super common problem with upward facing dog is shown here: her shoulders. We spend enough time with our shoulders hunched up by our ears, so doing updog this way perpetuates the problem instead of counteracting it. In upward dog, and in most yoga poses really, draw the shoulders down. This can be done by pressing into your hands. It often helps to bend your elbows slightly and roll your shoulders back and down. 

What to Do: Draw the shoulders down away from the ears.
Click here to see a better upward facing dog.

Bad Alignment in Warrior II

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There are two big problems with this warrior II. The front knee should ideally be directly over your ankle. A little behind the ankle is ok, but never in front of your ankle. That position puts your knee joint in a vulnerable position. It also sets up the pose to be too forward leaning, as you can see here. Warrior II should be very grounded in the lower part of your body. The shoulders then come straight over the hips. This warrior II leans forward precariously.

What to Do: Make sure your front knee doesn't come in front of your front ankle. Stack your shoulders directly over your hips.
Click here to see a better warrior II.

Bad Alignment in Tree Pose

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Tree is often one of the first balancing poses that yoga students tackle and the alignment is pretty simple except for one big rule: don't place your raised foot directly on the side of your knee. The thinking here is that is a lot of pressure for the least stable part of your leg. The knee can be a vulnerable joint and you want to protect is as much as possible. If you can't get your foot onto the opposite inner thigh, it's no big deal. Just place it below the knee instead of right on it.

What to Do: Depending on your mobility, choose to place your foot above or below the knee joint.
Click here to see a better tree pose.

Bad Alignment in Shoulderstand


Shoulderstand is a pose where it's really important to work on proper alignment because there's so much pressure on your neck if things aren't set up right. You can definitely use props to help you get there, but it's better to skip this pose than to do it incorrectly. I'm in favor of padding with a blanket or two under the shoulders but with the head off the blanket. Then the idea is to stack the hips over the shoulders and the feet over the hips so that everything rises in one straight line. In this photo, the hips are too far back and the feet too far forward creating an awkward jack-knife shape. This opens you up for injury in the back and neck.

What to Do: Stack the shoulders, hips, and feet in one straight line. Use props to help you get there.
Click here to see a better shoulderstand.

Bad Alignment in Boat Pose

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This boat pose is an example of prioritizing the wrong thing. Yes, the full pose is done with the legs straight, but if straightening your legs causes your back to round, you've lost the integrity of the pose. Part of the challenge is to keep your shoulders down and expand through the chest. It's better to bend the knees to a half boat if that makes it possible to keep your upper body from collapsing.

What to Do: Bend your knees to maintain an open chest.
Click here to see a better boat pose.

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