Yoga offers plenty of benefits, both physically and mentally. However, those benefits can just as easily be lost as gained if you do certain things before your practice. This can range from eating a big meal to drinking too much caffeine. If you’re looking to get the most out of your next yoga session, avoid these eight things before practicing.
What Should You Not Do Before Yoga?
If you avoid doing the following eight things before yoga, you can set yourself up for a successful session.
1. Eat a Big, Unhealthy Meal
It makes sense that you’d want something in your stomach before a physical practice like yoga, especially if you’re heading to the studio straight from work or school. But grabbing the quickest thing you can find on the way to the studio, which usually means fast food, isn’t the best idea.
Avoid heavy meals and foods with a lot of grease or fat for three to four hours before practicing. It’s a good idea to avoid dairy during this time as well.
Not only will these foods make you feel sluggish and heavy, but they’ll also interfere with your practice by causing:
- Heartburn, especially during inversions
- Difficulty taking deep yogic breaths, especially in twisted poses
Yoga can be challenging enough without making your body work harder to focus on mastering poses while also trying to digest heavy foods simultaneously.
While it’s important not to eat a huge meal full of difficult to digest foods before doing yoga, it’s not a bad idea to have a snack before class to give you energy, especially if you have blood sugar issues.
Many experienced yoga practitioners practice on an empty stomach, especially if the practice session is first thing in the morning. But if you’re just starting out, or you don’t have a regular practice established, it’s a good idea to give your body a little boost before practicing.
You can eat any time before class, as long as you choose something light and healthy. Some great pre-yoga snacks that you can grab on the go are:
- Trail mix
- Sports bars
Here are a few pre-yoga meal ideas if you have time to prepare something before class. Basically anything that will give you a bit of extra energy without weighing you down is good.
3. Forget to Stay Hydrated
Everyone knows how important it is to stay hydrated, of course. But it’s especially important to be hydrated while doing a physical activity like yoga. According to the American Heart Association, proper hydration helps your muscles operate more efficiently, including your heart.
Make sure to hydrate throughout the day, and drink a glass or two a couple of hours before you practice. Make sure to hydrate after doing yoga, too, to help all the toxins leave your body after you’ve been moving everything around during your session.
It’s okay to drink right before and during your yoga session, but don’t overdo it, or you’ll end up feeling bloated, not to mention having to duck out of class for a bathroom break.
4. Rush Back Home or the Studio
We all lose track from time to time and end up running late for classes or practicing at home before dinner—it’s just a part of modern life. But do your best to plan your day so that you don’t find yourself rushing into every yoga session.
The way you enter a yoga class often determines how the rest of the session will go, so showing up stressed and frazzled isn’t likely to lead to a relaxed, focused practice. Try to start your session right by scheduling enough commute time so that you arrive a few minutes early.
This allows you to take your time setting up your mat and getting settled and can also provide an excellent opportunity to get to know your fellow practitioners (if at a studio).
It’s definitely not true that you can only practice yoga if you’re completely relaxed and stress-free; in fact, many people do yoga mainly to counter the stresses in their lives. But if you can avoid bringing more stress than necessary to the mat, your practice can be a time for you to forget what’s going on in the outside world.
5. Drink Too Much Caffeine
Sometimes a little bit of caffeine is just what the doctor ordered, especially before those early morning yoga classes. But drinking too much caffeine before doing yoga can lead to an uncomfortable practice session, leading to:
- Racing heart
- Extra bodily tension (clenched jaw, tight back muscles)
- Heartburn and acid reflux
Do yourself a favor and go easy on the caffeine before doing yoga. Some people even find that the yoga practice itself gives them as much energy as a cup of coffee, and once their session is over, they don’t even need the extra boost from caffeine.
Just like you can’t always help running late to yoga class, you’re not always able to help running straight from class to another engagement. But the more you’re able to allow for a buffer of time in your schedule between yoga and other activities, the more relaxed your yoga practice will be overall.
Yoga teachers always talk about bringing the yoga practice off the mat and out into the world, so the way you leave a yoga session matters as much as what happened during class. You’re much better able to gently transition from practicing on the mat into taking the practice into the world if you’re not cutting savasana short to run out the door for another appointment.
7. Set the Wrong Goal
It’s common for yoga practitioners to set a goal or intention before doing yoga. However, some people can get tripped up by setting the wrong goal, sabotaging their practice.
Remember, when setting goals related to your yoga practice, to keep the goals focused on things you have control over, such as:
- Coming back to the breath every time you remember
- Cultivating patience with yourself
- Being mindful of posture during poses
Focusing on less controllable things, like mastering a challenging pose, or going super deep into a pose, can lead to unhelpful thought patterns like beating yourself up, rather than using the practice to explore what your body needs on any given day.
Remember that a yoga practice is as much mental and spiritual as it is physical, so the way you approach it mentally is as important as what you physically do on the mat.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to improve, of course. Mastering challenging poses is a perfectly fine aspiration to have. Just keep in mind that while you have that as an end goal, it’s essential to be open and accepting about where you are at the moment, too.
8. Make Assumptions
Along the same lines as goal setting, another critical mindset is something called Beginner’s Mind.
Beginner’s Mind is a mind that is free of assumptions and open to the present moment.
Do your best to walk into every practice session with no preconceived ideas of how your practice will or should go. This will help you use yoga as a tool to explore mindfulness, or what’s happening in the present moment.
Your yoga practice can be a meaningful window of time that you carve out for yourself. But you’ll experience many more of yoga’s many benefits if you prepare properly before a practice session. Make sure your body and mind have what they need to allow you to be fully present once you’re on your mat, and you’re sure to get the most out of your practice.