Ever wonder how alignment plays a role in asanas? Alignment is important not just to protect your body from injuries, by keeping your joints in place, but also to optimize effort in asanas.
When we stack our bones in alignment with gravitational forces, we find that the weight we have to bear is reduced. While we have to use our muscles to pull our bones into alignment, once they are stacked, the tensile strength of bones is activated and our muscles can bear less weight.
Let’s explore this through a plank pose and head stand.
Phalakasana (Plank pose)
In plank pose, the emphasis is often to stack the wrists, elbows and shoulders in a single perpendicular line to the yoga mat. In doing so, the radius and ulna and humerous are stacked with the wrist (radiocarpal and ulnacarpal) joints, elbow joints and shoulder (glenohumeral) joint aligned. The heels and toes are also aligned. This allows for the bones to counter the downward pull of gravity, and for the practitioner to focus on activating the key core and lumbar muscles in the pose.
Sirsasana (Head stand)
In head stand, the desired stacking happens when the ankles, knees and legs are brought together and stacked over a stable hip (parallel to the ground), which allows for a straight and stacked spine. Additionally, shoulders are stacked over the elbows to support the body. As the various stacks of bones counteract gravity, engaging the relevant core and trapezoid muscles to stabilize the joints in alignment becomes easier.
Working with, not against our body
By understanding skeletal alignment and the natural range of stability and movements in different joints, we bring anatomical awareness to our asana practice. As we stack bones in alignment, we are able to engage the key muscles of each pose and optimize for comfort.