One of the best experiences you can have as a yoga teacher is when you can see something within your students waking up. Proper yoga alignment can open up the doors to freedom and encourage you to become more in tune with yourself. Whether it be a connection within the body or a connection within the mind.
Proper yoga alignment, practice, and cueing have the power to link suffering to past trauma. This allows a person to let the pain go. Connecting with happiness, joy, and knowledge is something many of us strive to do and can achieve through proper yoga alignment. And this short guide will help you to feel more confident in your practice as you work towards achieving this inner peace through yoga alignment.
As a frequent source of confusion, yoga alignment is a tricky topic to grasp. And now more than ever there are so many different types of yoga practices to choose from, making this a complex topic.
There is a wide array of traditions, styles, and teaching methods to practice within yoga. Meaning that alignment cues can often be contradictory. To make things worse, many teachers don’t even practice exact positioning at all! To practice yoga, it’s important to understand the principles of yoga alignment and how to adapt them to suit your body.
What is Yoga Alignment?
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you’ll have noticed that many yoga teachers incorporate props and modifications in class. The purpose of props is to help students to develop correct yoga alignment. Without spoiling their posture. For example, if you can’t touch the ground while keeping your legs and spine straight in a forward fold, try using blocks. Instead of bending your knees, blocks allow you to still enjoy the benefits of a deep hamstring stretch.
But yoga alignment is a set of flexible principles that adapts to different bodies and different levels of practice. For example, in crow pose (Bakasana), strength and balance are essential. Ensure that you first take the time to warm up the body. This includes the wrists, shoulders, and core. In this pose, many people position their knees too low down the arms and this can cause injury. Instead, ensure that your knees are positioned onto your triceps as high as you can towards your armpits. Do this step before attempting to lift the legs.
Practicing Safe Alignment
Safe yoga alignment establishes a safe basis for a great yoga practice. Proper alignment allows the body to stretch and open while minimizing the risk of injury to the body. Better alignment can also enable you to become more aware of your body and practice acceptance. Correct posturing also keeps the body happy and healthy. Alignment also adds ease and grace to a yoga practice.
In camel pose (Ustrasana), stamina and endurance are key. This pose should not be attempted unless you are confident in your back bending ability. Because of the vulnerable position this pose puts you in, camel pose must be cued. For example, if the core is not engaged in this pose, an injury may occur.
With better cueing, positioning, and alignment, the greater your body awareness will become. If you are getting started with yoga and what to try yourself, here is The Beginner’s Guide on How to do Yoga at Home. Over time, you will discover what yoga styles and poses are best for you and gain the confidence to flow through sequences. But taking an individualized approach is crucial to maintaining a safe yoga practice. To increase your strength while lowering your risk of injury, change the alignment of postures to suit your body’s capabilities in a safe way.
Why is Alignment Important in Yoga?
Alignment establishes a stable basis for a safe yoga practice. Correct alignment enables the body to stretch and open while minimizing wear and tear on the joints and tissues. As well as keeping your body happy and healthy, alignment also adds ease and grace to a yoga practice.
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you’ll have noticed that many yoga teachers use props and modifications in class. The purpose of props is to help students to develop correct alignment, without spoiling their posture. So, for example, if you can’t touch the ground while keeping your legs and spine straight, try using blocks. By using blocks, instead of bending your knees, you’ll still enjoy the benefits of a deep hamstring stretch.
Many yoga injuries happen over time. After years of practice, some yoga students find themselves suffering from injuries. Injury is caused by incorrect alignment. To fix the issues, these students have to try to change their established patterns which can be difficult. This is why it’s important to aim for optimal alignment at an early stage in your yoga journey. Whether this means using props and modifications or checking in with a teacher.
Yoga Alignment Principles
Although most yoga alignment cues are adaptable. There are some universal principles that should be followed throughout your practice. By sticking to these basic principles of alignment, you’ll strengthen your body in a safe and healthy way.
Tips for Better Yoga Alignment
1. Align from the base: Before moving up through your body, ensure that you are first aligning the base of a posture. This might involve positioning your feet on the mat or pressing your feet into the ground for stability and support. Having a solid base is essential for a healthy and invigorating yoga practice, so it’s worth giving your feet some attention.
2. Stack the joints: This is essential in all yoga asanas, as it keeps your body stable. For example, in cat/cow position, your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists, while your hips are stacked over your knees.
3. Stabilize the core: Throughout your entire practice, make sure that your core is stable and engaged. Almost all yoga poses involve core strength, from inversions to twists. And stabilizing your core helps to support your body, protect your spine, and strengthen your abdominal muscles. Core strength also helps in back poses. For standing postures, firm up your inner thighs and pelvic floor, creating a stable foundation for your spine to lengthen. Next, lengthen your tailbone down and then pull your belly button in towards your spine.
4. The neck is an extension of the spine: To reduce the risk of neck strain, think of your neck as an extension of your spine. By keeping your neck aligned with your spine at all times, you will lessen the risk of damaging your upper vertebrae. Knowing how long to hold a yoga pose is also essential to keep the spine and body safe.
5. Use your breath: Always use your breath when moving in and out of poses. In yoga, you are most likely to injure yourself during transitions. When we hold our breath, it creates tension in the body. So don’t forget to exhale deeply, which will release any tension and allow your body to flow into the next pose.
How Can Proper Yoga Alignment Relieve Pain?
Along with the ability to connect the mind and body, proper yoga alignment can also relieve chronic pain. Yoga can reduce inflammation by improving flexibility and focusing on certain areas of the body. It also helps individuals cope with mental and physical pain. For many people, back pain is
By developing an understanding of the basics of yoga alignment, you will gain the necessary tools to practice yoga. Although understanding these universal principles is important. Remember that the greatest alignment is what is right for your body. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher for help, alter poses, or use props when necessary. Yoga is a personal journey. So practice with awareness and learn to move in the alignment your body requires.
If you would like to know more about yoga alignment, check out Blue Osa’s Yoga Alignment Course!
About Yogi Aaron
Yogi Aaron is the owner, operator, and lead yoga facilitator at Blue Osa and of the yoga teacher trainings.
Creator of Applied Yoga Anatomy + Muscle Activation™ Yogi Aaron brings three decades’ worth of study, mentorship, and experience into his teachings, with a strong emphasis on yoga therapy and alignment.
The Muscle Activation Yoga Classes is an exploration into your body, its muscles, and to learn how to improve its function through using Applied Yoga Anatomy + Muscle Activation™.
Find out more about yoga teacher trainings with Yogi Aaron at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa.