Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a new yoga student, following basic alignment principles is very important. By aligning your body correctly in a yoga pose you accomplish several things. Different schools of yoga have different methodology on how they teach alignment. However, there are some basic principles that can be applied to all different types of yoga methods. Yoga teachers can use these principles as guidelines when giving cues in their yoga classes.
Why do we use alignment cues?
First, postural yoga, in the West we call it Hatha yoga, uses our body. It is extra important to keep the body safe through correct placement of the body.
2. Anchor Points
The other thing, that is often misunderstood in the practice, is that all the various alignment cues aren’t there as a means of creating some sort of external perfection in the pose. Alignment cues are actually creating a focal point in the mind, an anchor for the mind. Ultimately, the common thread through all of different yoga practices, whether its postural practice, breathwork, mantra, focusing on an image, it’s all to use the focus of the mind to go beyond the mind to go past all the normal chatter, disruptions and anxieties, worries and concerns that are causing us to suffer in our daily lives. We actually use the mind to assist us in reaching a state of well-being. So, in the practice, you are using all of these various alignment cues as anchor points for the mind so that it’s not wandering off when you’re attempting to practice.
What are the four alignment principles?
These principles can also be seen as steps. Start with the first step and then add in the next step.
1. Understand the intention of the pose:
What is the pose actually looking to accomplish? Is it a backbend? Is it a forward bend? Are you twisting? Are you standing on one foot or both feet? For example, in triangle pose the intention is often to open up the hips, keep a long torso allow the movement to come more from the hips and legs than bending the back.
Once you have a good idea of what the intention is, then you can set a basic foundation for the shape that the body is going to take. For triangle pose, we can the set the foundation by creating that “triangle shape”. In this pose you take your legs wide and maintain a heel-to-arch alignment in the feet. Engage your outer hip on one side so that leg can rotate to the side of the room. Take the arms out wide, instead of bending forward you should reach and lean forward (to keep a long torso). Then lower the arm to the shin.
Remember, everybody’s body is a little bit different and so the basic shape often needs to be adapted to every unique body. Sometimes that’s going to mean a different muscle engagement or cue for a different person. In triangle pose, you might adapt for someone that is locking their knee and encourage them to soften the knee.
This step is where you get further refinement of alignment cues so that people can stay anchored into their experience and to create more optimization for the body. In triangle pose, we can then focus on reaching the arms wider and continue to rotate the outer hip back. Ultimately, our practice is a means of making us more skillfully involved with whatever it is that we are doing in the present moment. For example, if I can balance on one foot, pull my outer hip in, draw my belly in, lift my heart up and be focused on my breath the whole time, I am actually learning a skill set applies when I’m thrown into a life crisis and trying to balance my job, school, bills, family and still feel centered and balanced.