When it comes to practicing yoga, the ancient teachings guide us toward Enlightenment. Through various methods, disciplines, and practices, we can direct this Human experience toward a Life of fulfillment in Mind, Body, and Spirit. The teachings of yoga lead us toward our fullest potential. Even in this modern era of yoga, with all the various styles and types, it is important to remember the true nature of yoga.
This word and concept can have many connotations and perspectives, but it is an idea that can help the modern yogi stay connected to its true and honest intention.
Alignment can mean many things. A dictionary definition of the word brings us to this:
- the act of aligning or state of being aligned;
- the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts (as of a mechanical or electronic device) in relation to each other;
- a forming in line;
- the line thus formed;
- an arrangement of groups or forces in relation to one another.
These explanations can also apply to yoga, both on a physical level and a non-physical plain. Physically, being in alignment in a yoga pose reflects the second definition of the word; adjusting parts of the body in relation to other parts.
There are several things you can consider as you establish yourself in this yoga asana. First notice if you are sending more weight into one foot than the other. If that is the case, mindfully adjust yourself so that the body weight distribution feels more balanced. Another thing that can help is to have something you can see or focus on to help with this alignment.
Having a single alignment line down the center of your yoga mat is a wonderful tool to help with this situation. When coming to Mountain Pose, you can straddle your feet over the centered line. This, essentially, centers your body. You can look down to see that your feet are evenly distanced, creating the desired alignment for the posture.
While in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), you can take a moment to make sure there is alignment among your shoulders, hands, head, and torso. When properly aligned, these body parts will experience the benefit of the pose, you'll feel physically safe in the posture, and you may even be able to hold the pose longer because you'll be structurally secure.
You can align your head and torso so that it is directly centered on your yoga mat; you'll be able to use the line to guide you toward that space. Once you're centered here, you can place your hands equidistant from your head. That way, you'll be able to evenly distribute the weight between your hands, arms, and shoulders. Not only will you feel stronger in the pose, but because of this solid connection and balance, you'll be able to concentrate on being in the moment; to stay aware and focused rather than being distracted by trying to hold the posture.
The same can go for Plank Pose (Phalakasana). As you're flowing through your Sun Salutation, coming to the high plank position gives you a quick snapshot of how your body is positioned as you flow into the next set of poses: Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) and Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana). You can see if your torso and head are lined up well with the center line on your yoga mat. You can distinguish whether or not your hands are equidistant from your head. If not, you can easily make an adjustment.
Revolving Chair Pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana) is a challenging posture that calls for awareness of where your body is in space. The alignment line on your yoga mat can be a good resource to help with that awareness. The main point of this yoga asana is to get your thighs parallel to the floor. Start by coming to Mountain Pose. Again, you can use the line on the mat to properly situate your feet so you feel balanced and centered. Raise your arms into the air then sit back into Chair Pose. If you glance at the floor, you can check to see if your torso is long and is in the same plain as the line down the center of your yoga mat. Bring your hands to heart center. While keeping the lower half of your body stable, rotate the trunk of your body to one side. Imagine, sliding a key into a door lock, then turning the key to unlock it. When you turn the key, it does not bend. You want the same thing to occur when you're twisting your upper body. As you revolve, make sure your torso remains in its original axis; use the line on the mat as reference. You'll see if you're straying away from your center.
By having this structurally in-tuned position for this revolving chair pose, you actually gain more from the posture: you experience more opening in the hips, better balance, and you're conditioning your core muscles.
It is so easy for one to get distracted by outlying thoughts and feelings. The intention of any yoga practice is to be present and mindful. It allows for the practitioner to pay close attention to what's going on inside of self and to leave behind what is going on outside of self. Since your eyes are generally open in a moving asana practice, it can be easy to look around and be distracted. By having something to focus on, it enhances the meditative mind. This is called Drishti. It's a Sanskrit word that means "sight." It allows yogis to improve their personal practice while deepening self-awareness and connection. It is a gazing technique; you keep your eyes focused on a single object while you're moving from pose to pose. It also helps in a meditation practice; one focuses more intently on the breath as a drishti exercise. This can certainly be another form of alignment.
In some yoga poses, like Arm Balancing Postures, for example Crow Pose (Bakasana) or Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) not only require physical strength to move into and hold the pose, but also requires a good amount of attention toward alignment. When you create a physical yoga pose, you are building a structure, like a tall skyscraper. All of its girders and beams properly placed so that the building is structurally sound. The architect and construction crew want the structure to hold firmly and strongly. In a sense, you are doing the same thing with your own body with such poses. For example, if you are not creating articulate right angles in building of the walls in a home, it could fall down. The same goes for stacking joint over joint and creating the same right angles in your body so that you do not fall out of the pose.
It gives the practitioner something tangible to focus on as they work on achieving greater self-awareness and presence and because the asana practice has a focus on the moving body and postures, it is a good way for the yogi to bring their attention inward. As you continue developing and evolving in your yoga practice, that focus can shift to something much deeper. Your self-awareness practice goes beyond the physical parts and dives into the non-physical aspects of the philosophy. Alignment is also key in this area.
As mentioned in the early definition of alignment, it is the adjustment of parts in relation to another. In this case, you are adjusting and manipulating the breath to inspire a connection with the present moment or even your own body.
As you reacquaint yourself with your breath, a deeper, more mindful connection is established.
Your personal path through life is exactly that: YOUR path. In the traditional sense, your path is your Dharma or your duty in Life. This is a little different from a career path that you have chosen to follow. You may go to school, study a certain subject that you enjoy, get a degree, and perhaps even have the opportunity to find employment using your studied skills. This is one type of life path, but is it your TRUE calling?
Some may believe that you have a specific duty and obligation to accomplish while living in this Earthly form, but because of the complexity of the human life experience, it may not be very clear as to what that calling is for you. This is where we return to the yogic philosophy and the element of alignment. It is very easy to be distracted by these earthly pleasures and experiences. Not to say that we shouldn't enjoy these pleasures, but it is also important to remember our true intention for being here.
In a sense, we are out of alignment with our dharma or true calling when we are caught up in the mix of the earthbound proclivities. Taking the time to practice a discipline like yoga or meditation or pranayama helps you to realign to the truth of who you are and what your duty is in this Lifetime. Some may never discover their true path, but if this sort of thing intrigues you and fascinates you, you may want to devote yourself to simple practices to experience this alignment to your authentic self and assigned dharma. You can do that by returning to your yoga mat.
Knowing that you have come to your yoga mat to help find clarity and balance takes you a step closer to your truth.
So when it comes to thinking about alignment in yoga, we can see that it can be viewed in several ways. It can be attributed to the physical body when it comes to a structurally sound body when practicing certain yoga poses. And to assist with that alignment, having the visual element of the decorative line down the center of your yoga mat can be helpful. It gives you the cue and reminder to align yourself properly on your mat. And with this focus, your alignment practice turns inward.
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