Yoga alignment is a subject that we engage with constantly as yoga practitioners. Cultivating body awareness and mindfulness in action are fundamental to the practice of yoga and are intrinsically linked to the benefits that we derive from it. Learning these skills requires focussed attention on the relative positions of our body parts in three dimensional space.
As it ages, the human body tends to become increasingly restricted in movement and more prone to irregularity and asymmetry. Yoga poses can help to reintegrate the different compartments of the body. As seen from the outside, asanas can appear to “shape” the body into more simple, straight lines. These lines refer not just to the limbs, but the whole body and the manner in which it extends itself in space.
When practicing yoga we quickly realise the distinction between the concept of “simple” and “easy”. Although it is common for age and stiffness to distort the potential for the body to make clean, simple lines in yoga poses, this tendency can also arise in younger bodies where muscles and joints have an unusually large range of movement. Yoga can help to find the right balance between improving flexibility in conjunction with improving strength and stability. Working on finding “lines” in your practice can serve as a guide to achieving this end.
How to approach alignment
There are a range of different approaches to alignment in yoga. Across different styles and practitioners, opinions can vary greatly. On one pole, there can be a dogmatic view of doing things in a “correct” and singleminded way, without taking into account wide-ranging individual differences in bodies. This “textbook” approach favours an idealised view of the human body that is not realistic. Blind pursuit of this ideal can have negative consequences including physical injuries and the cultivation of a rigid way of thinking which runs counter to the the important yogic principle of being open minded.
The flip side of the above approach involves not focussing on alignment at all. Practicing yoga in this way can be problematic in different ways. Having too much freedom in a pose can remove us from the tradition and the framework that each asana provides. Progressing and deepening a practice can be hampered if there is no thread to follow.
Ultimately, as with most things in life, the best way of approaching alignment in yoga is about finding a balance between these two poles. The visual lines that the body makes in each asana provides the practitioner with a map for interpreting the pose. They can give you guidance in finding more movement, mobility and strength in your body. However it is also important not to lose sight of fact that although we strive to make a pose look a certain way from the outside, it is far more important to be noticing how the pose feels on the inside.
Alignment in Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar Yoga is a popular style of yoga based on the teachings of contemporary Indian yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar. The method is widely known for emphasising precision and alignment. Teachers of this style understand the practical and therapeutic effects of the various yoga poses. This knowledge is used to create tailored and coherent sequences that impart specific physical and mental benefits.
At the time, B.K.S. Iyengar was profoundly innovative in his approach to yoga. His influence, with an emphasis on alignment, is widespread throughout the world of modern yoga. It can be seen today, not just in Iyengar yoga, but in many other contemporary styles. His immensely detailed and refined methods are an ongoing source of discovery for yoga practitiors worldwide.
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