Almost 20 years ago, I happened upon an alignment-based hatha yoga workshop, and it began an important new chapter in my practice and teaching. I’m not quite sure what I was teaching the previous 7 years, but finding a system that taught principles that support the balance of stability and optimal mobility, was personally empowering and permanently changed the course of my teaching.
What inspires me to this day is that optimal physical alignment is as individual as each student in class. This requires teachers to know more — much more — about the physical body and functional movement, to keep their students safe and able to progress in their practice. Why is alignment-based yoga important for you as a student? Read on.
1.Good physical alignment works on many levels.
It asks students to study themselves, their tendencies, mental and emotional blocks, and to be open to listening with “beginner’s mind.” As my philosophy teacher, Douglas Brooks, says, “We are always aligned to something, consciously or unconsciously.” As we become more conscious, understandings change, alignment gets refined, and greater possibilities unfold.
2.Even our beliefs dictate alignment.
If your tight hamstrings convince you that you cannot straighten your front leg in trikonasana (triangle pose), you will not straighten it unless you are offered a way to do so that makes sense to your brain and feels good in your body. I can’t count the number of times students have remarked, upon receiving a physical or verbal assist in class, “Oh, I had no idea I could do that! And Ahhh…that feels so much better.”
3.Alignment-based yoga teaches students about the balance between steadiness and freedom in a pose.
Take downward facing dog, for example. If your teacher instructs you to “press your heels to the floor” you may shorten the pose just to get your heels down. The pose may feel incredibly steady, but if “heels down” is your bellwether for a “good” down dog, you may have given up any sense of freedom in the rest of your body.
4.Every single body is unique!
The optimal length and width of down dog for someone with short legs and a long torso will look quite different than someone with long legs and a short torso. Regardless of how the pose looks, optimal alignment in downward facing dog places your hands and feet in a way that sets you up to breathe deeply, integrate your arms into your shoulder sockets, invite a gentle curve in the low back, and stretch fully in all directions, extending from your heart and lengthening your spine.
Optimal alignment touches our hearts through our attitudes, beliefs, and what holds our attention through the day. When we are offered a class theme (with intention) that connects the practice to life off the mat, we can often feel the benefits of a class long after it is over.
The Bindu is an alignment-based teaching studio. Our teachers practice and teach alignment through functional movement, philosophy, pranayama, and meditation. The learning is additive and progressive. What you learn on the mat, you can use driving your car as well as sitting in a board meeting. When you have studied alignment and learned what is optimal for YOUR body, you can attend any yoga class and know you are safe in your practice regardless of what and how the teacher instructs. That’s priceless self-care!
Do you practice alignment-based yoga? Please take a moment to share what it has meant for your practice and your life!
Special thanks to our model, Susan Walker.