“Alignment” is such a buzz-word in yoga but have you ever stopped to actually think about why alignment is so important?
Here are the main reasons why I think that focusing on healthy alignment is so important during our asana practice:
1) Correct alignment helps to stabilise our joints while incorrect alignment can cause our joints to become less stabile
A great example here is the front knee joint in Virabhadrasana 2, Warrior 2. Ideally we want our knee to be positioned directly above the ankle joint. The knee is weight bearing and by allowing it to fall inwards or outwards, or holding the knee in a position beyond or behind the ankle potentially puts strain on the ligaments that are there to stabilise the knee and prevent it from dislocating.
Top alignment tips: make sure that your front shin is vertical and wrap your front buttock under until you can see your big toe and second toe on the inside of your front foot. We’ll explore this in more detail in my asana tutorial on Warrior postures.
2) Healthy alignment makes our asana practice more efficient and allows us to find the balance between effort and ease
What I mean by this is that by stacking our joints on top of one another we use the strength of our bones and can keep muscular activity to a minimum. We want our muscles to be active in our practice but when we take our joints out of alignment our muscles have to work even harder to hold us in place and this can often create tension. We are practicing to release tension and not create it! Our asana practice is about finding the balance between effort and ease, strength and softness.
A great example is the alignment of our head in relation to our shoulders. The average human head weighs 5kg, which is a lot of weight for our neck to support. But the further you move your head forward in relation to your neck the heavier your head becomes. When your neck is flexed 60 degrees forward (think “text neck”) our head weighs the equivalent of 25kg! Imagine the strain on the muscles of your neck and back trying to hold your head in this position.
A nice way to reset your head back on top of your shoulders is to clasp your hands at the base of your skull, draw your elbows in so that they are shoulder-width apart and gently draw your head back into your hands. Take a few breaths here and slowly release. This will train your body on where your head should be!
3) Good alignment creates a sense of space and freedom in our body and mind
When we become used to healthy alignment we create more space within our joints, we allow tension in our muscles to release and we allow ourselves to let go from a place of holding. We create more space to breathe and find a deeper connection to our breath. We allow blood and energy to flow through our body with greater ease. We allow our minds to settle into our body, finding stillness and a sense of grounding.
The first posture we explore in the asana tutorials is Tadasana, Mountain pose. At first glance Tadasana looks like we are just in a relaxed standing position but in fact every part of our body is active in this posture and there are lots of subtle alignment cues. Each joint is stacked to create the ideal way to stand to create healthy joints. With trauma, injury, stress, bad postural habits etc our bodies are constantly taken out of alignment and finding our Tadasana can be quite difficult or uncomfortable for the body. But with lots of yoga Tadasana can begin to feel great, creating a sense of space, grounding and stillness.
I like to apply the alignment principles in Tadasana to each posture I explore in my practice. My teacher, Kristin Campbell, calls Mountain pose the blueprint for all other postures. I really hope that you enjoy the tutorial! See the tutorial at Movement For Modern Life.
This post was written by Andrew McGonigle, a yoga teacher, massage therapist and anatomy teacher with a background in western medicine. Based in London, Andrew has been practicing yoga and meditation for 12 years and teaching since 2009. Teaching exclusively at triyoga, Andrew’s classes are open to all levels and encourage students to develop awareness of patterns of tension in their bodies with a goal to release stress. Andrew teaches anatomy and physiology on many different Yoga Teacher Training courses in London and internationally. For more information visit Doctor Yogi.