Recently, a few of my students have approached me with injuries wondering if they should still be practicing yoga. Wrist injuries, shoulder injuries, knee injuries, ankle injuries -- all kinds of funky things! My answer is almost always, "YES, you can absolutely practice yoga. Let's find a way to modify your practice."
The general rule of thumb to practicing yoga, or any exercise, is it pay close attention to your intuition. If you are feeling pain, you should immediately stop whatever you are doing so the pain stops. Intense stretching is great. Pain is not good. Please do not ever put yourself into a position that feels painful. And really, isn't that something we should practice in all areas of our life??
As a yoga student, you have a lot of choices when it comes to your yoga practice. If you live near a city, you probably have dozens of yoga studios within just a five mile radius. There are various styles of yoga, not to mention thousands of yoga teachers ready to teach you.
With so many choices, I find that there are few consistencies among teachers and studios, even within the same lineage. Each teacher has their own unique style and their own preferences, and the same goes for studios. I often receive questions from students along the lines of, "This teacher said to do it this way, but you said to do it that way. Which way is correct?" For that question, I almost always have the same answer, which is that both ways are correct, because usually they are. I encourage students to try whatever their teacher suggests, as long as it doesn't cause pain or put the student at risk for injury. At some point, you'll find the method that's preferable, at which point you can stick with that.
When I think about how to be a great yoga student, I don't really think about what shape your body is making while you practice yoga. Instead, I mostly think about how you show up on your mat. I think about how you respect your body and your mind. I think about your ability to be mindful and your ability to breathe. I think about your ability to just show up -- which for most of us, is usually the hardest part.
When I think about how to be a great yoga student, here are a few things that I consider "good practices" for ensuring that you have a great yoga experience.