“It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence” – B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life
As a teacher, I encourage safe alignment in asana, because I know how, as a student, it is vital in the healing process of the body. ‘Hypermobility’ is a real buzzword at the moment in the yoga world, the hashtag #hypermobility has almost 80K uses on Instagram, and suddenly, everyone seems to be an expert. However, it is far more than a hashtag. Modern yoga often fetishizes the super-bendy body, the ‘pretzel’ poses, and my 14 year old body in my first Ashtanga class was no exception. Luckily for me, through the right guidance and my own agency in my practice, I have been able to utilise strength, rather than leaning into my hypermobility. It’s taken me almost 14 years to do this.
However, the application of proper alignment goes far deeper than the physical. Yes, healthy calibration of the bones and muscles helps to promote the principle of Ahimsa or ‘non-harm’ (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras), but furthermore, it allows our prana (vital life force) to flow more freely.
Let’s take a balancing pose for example, Ardha Chandrasana or ‘half-moon’ pose. The most common thing I see as a teacher with this posture, is that quite quickly within the pose, the student’s foot on which they are balancing, tends to turn out or in, something I did for many years. When this happens, all the bones stacking above that rooted point, stack up unevenly, you could almost think of it like a poorly built house, if the foundations are not solid, nothing above those foundations is stable.
When we establish the root of this pose, then from there we can extend and expand the body gracefully. Sure, this looks pretty, but what we are doing is opening up energy channels in the body, allowing our prana (vital energy) to flow freely. Prana, over time, inevitably gets blocked in all of us, showing up as illness, malaise, depression etc. and we use our asana practice, amongst other limbs of yoga, to help remove these blockages. Simply put, if a misaligned bone is blocking one of these energetic pathway junctions, then we are adding to the problem, rather then alleviating it. To go back to our example pose of Half Moon, next time your teacher offers you a prop, such as a brick, to maybe go under the hand aiding the balance, take it, and be safe in the knowledge that this in no way takes away from the potency of the asana, it actually increases it. Furthermore, these healthy choices celebrate individualism in practice, and remove concerns of comparison.
Comparison in all areas of life, let alone in the yoga studio, creates obstruction to personal progress, but yet I see it, every single day in classes I teach. Wandering eyes, often just fuelled initially by pure curiosity, but which is then all too soon followed by the factor of competition, something truly redundant to us as yogis. It’s understandable why we do it, when our daily lives, both working and even in leisure are so dominated by this sense of competition; it makes sense that a lot of us carry this into the yoga studio.
But what if we practiced Satya (truth) in our yoga. Truth isn’t just being honest with others, but being honest with yourself. When we look at another body in the yoga room, and try to emulate their truth as our own, we are leaning into ego and away from our own truth, from our own yoga. Everything you think that you need from yoga, and from life, is already within you, but rather than believe this we look to attach our worth to the external. A lot of the time, when I go to assist a student to sometimes back away from the deepest variation of an asana, 9 times out of 10, I am met with dismay, even resistance. There is a misconception that a teacher, who guides their student to honest alignment and satya, is being overly strict, mean even. I know I used to think like this, but over time, the teachers who let me lean into my hypermobility because it looked advanced, and me as my own teacher during that time not holding myself accountable, led to no progression in my yoga practice. It is only since I have embraced this approach of truth, however much said truth hurts, that I have been able to progress, not just in my asana, but in my yoga practice as a whole, and therefore, my life.
What is perhaps most important to acknowledge in all of this, is that when observing truth in your practice, you’ll find that there is no one true alignment, no one-size-fits-all, your half moon is not going to look identical to another student’s. Therefore, we need to move from a place of feeling, rather than a concern with physical shape, asking ourselves, “how does this pose feel for me?” not, “how do I look doing the pose?” It is through this that we become our own teacher. So next time, don’t even wait for your teacher to suggest the use of a prop, find your true alignment, and feel good in the process.