Good alignment in your yoga doesn’t have any objective reality.
There’s no "ideal alignment” floating around anywhere. Rather, it’s a response to a misalignment.
Good alignment for you as an individual is a position which holds up a mirror for you. It holds you accountable for your own imbalances, your foibles, challenges you to improve and facilitates your growth.
Google says that alignment is "a position of agreement or alliance.” I think that’s pretty solid. By cultivating alignment in your physical practice, you’re bringing cohesion to your body and letting it support the rest of your life.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I think alignment is awesome. I think it’s really important to understand and practice well. I used to practiceyoga without much awareness of alignment, but when I integrated alignment into the core of my practice I experienced such an amazing transformation.
I’d like to share a few of the many reasons why I take joy from teaching that alignment to others:
Everyone has a body:
Yoga has many different forms so as to be adaptable to the unique needs and path of the individual. It is said that in past ages, people were able to practice yoga just by listening to stories and thinking about them. Perhaps some people can still take that path today. Not everyone can, however.
One thing we all have in common as yoga practitioners is that we have a body, and for the most part our experience of reality remains linked with our body. Asana practice and alignment is an experience available to everyone, in a way that more "subtle” practices of yoga may not yet be.
It’s our foundation for beginning to awaken self-awareness:
We all already have some awareness of our body as a tangible thing, and thisawareness can be easily deepened and explored. That body-awareness tends to be very shallow at first, however. Your body is defined by patterns of movement that have been established by your activities, work, and injuries. That means that you’ll tend to emphasize use of certain joints and muscles while others are underutilized. Most of us use a very small percentage of our muscles.
Yoga positions can be — and often are — performed within the limits of these patterns. You’ll just reinforce whatever imbalance is already present, channeling them into the general shape of an asana.
Good alignment means not letting your patterns control your position. It means challenging your body with the goal of creating ease, stability, and self-awareness. After a skillful adjustment, you’ll likely find yourself saying, "Wow, I’ve never felt that area of my body before!”
That expanded awareness can then be extended to other areas of experience — emotions, mind, etc, if you choose. But…
Not everyone is gunning for enlightenment:
Some people just want to go to yoga class to work with their body. They might want to get fit, be more flexible, or stop being in pain. Health and wellness of the physical form is something that yogacanoffer people.
Not everyone wants to meditate, be aware of subtle bodies, have mystical experiences, or attain enlightenment. That’s fine! There’s nothing wrong with practicing yoga asana for the physical benefits alone. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be out of pain, be fit, or whatever your goal is.
There are those of us who do want some of those other things, but we ought not think that makes our practice in some way superior or preferable. Trying to force that process on someone that isn’t open to it will only invite resistance and drive them away from yoga.
I interpret the concept of karma to mean that those who remain focused entirely on the body have some reason for doing so. They’re learning what they need to learn. Maybe they’ll learn that lesson and their interest will shift in 10 years. Or 50. Or another life. No one said Yoga is fast.
Don’t rush past your body or deny what it has to teach you, because
Your body is sacred:
For a long time, I didn’t think my body was very important. I preferred to stay in a more mental experience; my body mostly served to move my brain around the world. Even though I practiced "yoga” — meditation, asana, studying philosophy — I didn’t really understand or appreciate my body. More and more physical problems presented themselves, and meditation wasn’t solving it. Maybe it could for some people, but it sure didn’t for me.
Sure, you can focus too much on physical things and the body, becoming preoccupied with possessions, body image, etc. But that’s due to your attitude, your relationship with your body or material things. It can be just as unhealthy to disregard or try to ignore your body.
My problem was that I was denying my experience of my body rather than using it to support my goals. When I started studying the body and alignment, I found a joy and reverence for my body. Physical being is just as much an expression of life and consciousness as mind. I realized that
Your body is an expression of yourself:
Yoga teaches us that everything is connected. This is traditionally expressed by the concept of "layers” or "sheaths” (kosha), of which the body is one. On this spectrum, the body is the most tangible manifestation of the self, after having passed through the filters of bliss, wisdom, mind, and energy. This is a two way street: a change to any one of these koshas will have effects in the others. This means that a disturbance or change in your mind will have some effect on the body. A change in the body will have some effect on the mind.
When you chronically experience an ache, a pain, or tightness, it may be correlated with a granthi, or "knot” that resides in your mind. Similarly, a physical injury may affect your energy, perception, or mental state. You’ve probably heard of psychosomatic illnesses, in which an imbalance such as stress manifests as a physical problem. But there are somatopsychic illnesses too, an imbalance of the body that has an effect on the mind.
Modern science is starting to validate this process —this talkby Harvard’s Amy Cuddy is a good introduction.
By working with the body, you have an opportunity to explore these knots and begin to undo them. I don’t mean to suggest that purely physical work is all that’s necessary, but it can definitely begin the process. Your physical yoga practice is working on many levels.
Practitioners often report experiencing very intense emotional states as a result of asana practice: frustration, fear, happiness, peacefulness, anger, sadness, joy. These are all signs of the deeper processes at work that we may or may not be aware of. Even if you’re not paying attention,
Yoga sneaks up on you:
It’s often been said that you don’t have to believe in yoga, you just have to do it. I start by teaching physical movement and alignment primarily, because that’s the foundation we need to begin to understand the yoga process. Often, practitioners I work with will start to experience their breath in a new way, have a different perspective on their emotions, or even make dramatic lifestyle changes. If that person is ready for other layers of yoga, it will just happen, even though that’s not necessarily the focus or intention going in.
There’s no need to force anything. The process itself will bring deeper layers to your attention: you’ll find yourself spontaneously meditating or doing pranayama. Maybe you’ll be talking away on the phone and notice you somehow ended up sitting in Lotus.
Yoga is an interconnected discipline, and no part of it is separable from another. If you perform the techniques of yoga with diligence, even if it’s just good alignment, it’ll start to awaken other parts of the process.
Be patient with yourself. Take joy in your body. When you’re in alignment, everything flows. And that’s enough, all by itself.
(But there’s plenty more if that’s what you want!)
About the Author:
Griffin Litwinhad no idea what he was getting himself into when he started Yoga. Before he fell down that rabbit hole, he thought he was going to be a lawyer. (Close call!) Since then, he’s traveled extensively and studied Yoga in India. He’s currently a full time Yoga teacher in Evergreen, Colorado, and his current project is exploringasanaand alignment, sharing his insights through words, design, and photography atup4yoga.com
- See more at: http://yoganonymous.com/6-reasons-alignment-yoga-class-matters-think/#sthash.FhsT2QKz.dpuf
To learn more about how alignment fits into your asana practice as a student or teacher, attend Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute's immersion Structural Anatomy of Yoga, December 12-14th at the Harris Express YMCA in Charlotte NC. Click HERE for more info and to register!