A woman in class asked me recently why her legs shake during yoga practice. This can be a common experience in those that practice yoga. There can be several reasons for this and they may not be exclusive; many of them may appear together. Some are on the physical plane and one is more mental. If you’re experiencing this physical sensation during yoga practice or just curious, read on:
Practice regularly. Practicing yoga takes time and consistency for your body to learn the poses and sequence. For those that practice once a week, the body has a harder time remembering the movements and has that much more stress and muscular tightness to work through before you start to feel relaxed and connected. One of the best ways to stop the shakes is to build the body’s strength and flexibility. This increases with consistent practice, something along the lines of 3-4 times per week.
Work from the muscle and protect the joint. In poses that require joints align, or are stacked, one on top of the other, notice the difference between locking into your joint and working from the muscle. In a pose like Tree or Dancer’s Pose, it’s easy to lock into the joint. Rather than locking into a joint, feel a connection to the muscle to build its strength.
Build a stable base. The body will work towards the path of least resistance. For instance, although you’ll have more strength to hold Upward Dog if you stack your shoulders over your wrists and activate the muscles of the thighs to create the backbending action, the hands may be in front of the shoulders and you may find yourself sinking into your neck and shoulders. This can create shaking or wobbling in a pose. Instead, before fully expressing the posture, make sure your alignment is stable. If you’re unsure how to do this in certain poses, ask your yoga teacher for help. The beauty of building a stable base is that it will help you relax more in the pose and express it more freely.
Don’t try so hard. Trying is sometimes a function of desire. We want to do the pose correctly, we want to have certain benefits come from our practice. This mental perspective can create tension in the body, which can generate shaking in the muscles. You may find when you have this perspective, you push yourself beyond your physical limits. Keep in mind: showing up consistently and working with a solid foundation will give you the benefits of the practice without the strain and you will see gradual and lasting results without injury.
Modify to build strength. As your body is getting stronger, it’s helpful to modify some of the poses so you can train yourself in the proper alignment, without the struggle of experiencing the full pose. The classic example of this is moving from high to low push up. Newer people to yoga may find that the slow moving decline from high to low push up is more than they can do at the start. So, the body tends to compensate by sagging at the middle on the way down or by leading with the belly on the decline and keeping the shoulders lifted. Neither of these movements teach the body the proper alignment and help build strength in a gradual way. To modify, all you need to do is drop the knees before lowering and/or lower to the floor but in a slow, steady fashion. Modifying may be hard because you may feel it’s giving up but in fact, it’s giving your body a chance to catch up with your mind in terms of where you want the pose or movement to go.
Other tips for building conditioning: Ideally, practice when you are well fueled but do not eat a full meal right before practice. Practicing with an injury is possible but modifications are necessary. Make sure you are well hydrated. If you practice first thing in the morning, eat a piece of fruit or have some yogurt before to give your body something to work with for energy. And, the most important tool for yoga is the breath. Make sure you are breathing, slow, steady and with attention to the breath. This will keep you connected to your body and will facilitate the relaxation affect that yoga generates, even as you build strength.