Yoga is a shift from the thinking and doing self into the feeling and being self.
So why do so many styles of yoga focus so diligently on alignment? Even sometimes to the point of being perfectionistic?
A properly aligned yoga posture looks and feels alive. It is full of life force or prana.
When the body is correctly positioned the lines of energy flow more freely. The breath has more areas to expand into and the pose literally looks and feels lighter. When we can breath in our poses, the bandhas can engage, and risk of injury is considerably less.
You don’t have to be a yoga teacher to see the difference between a mature practitioner and someone who is jamming themselves into a shape their body is not ready for. A mature practice does not mean fancier nor more advanced postures either. Instead, a well-aligned tadasana (standing mountain pose) can radiate more energy than a cobbled together arm balance or inversion.
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:46, sthira sukham asanam:
In order to be asana, a yoga pose must have equal parts strength and flexibility. There must be a balance between the stability of the pose, the sthira, and the pliability or sweetness, the sukha.
The practitioner is neither a hard oak nor are a wispy willow. Instead the pose should be like a bamboo tree. Alignment helps us find the balance between these two essential pieces by teaching practitioners not just where to engage, but also where to let go.
Positioning one’s body in asana is also a meditation. Flow classes, such as Ashtanga yoga or Vinyasa yoga, are just that—moving meditations. One stays totally present in each moment, attuned to both the breath and where they are placing their body. Alignment cues can also act like mantra. Thinking “place your right big toe here,” or “lengthen the tailbone” helps to drown out the ceaseless chatter that usually occupies our busy brains.
Like anything, one’s approach to alignment can be taken too far. When the main intention becomes “nailing” or “perfecting” a pose, people are back in the mindset of achievement.
However, when alignment is used to safely build a posture or to remain totally present and engrossed in one’s practice, then the practice of aligning becomes yoga practice in and of itself.
Editor: Brianna Bemel
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