The dangers of poor alignment are often not realised until pain is experienced or an injury actually occurs. Many practitioners underplay the importance of proper alignment as they are more focused on achieving (or trying to achieve) the “final pose”. This may be further reinforced when teachers rush through an asana sequence instead of breaking down each pose by providing sufficient and effective alignment cues (with appropriate modifications for different levels) to allow the student to get into the pose safely.
Understanding proper alignment helps one differentiate what is comfortable, compromised or wrong. With self-awareness of the body, this consciousness synchronises the mind and body to work in unison, allowing a practitioner to move into a pose safely and correctly while unlocking the benefits of that pose. Whether a seasoned practitioner or someone who is just starting out, we must be reminded that every body is different and what works for someone may not work for someone else – there is no “one size fits all” alignment formula that can be applied across the board, only general alignment cues and guidelines that we may take reference from for our practice.
As future yoga teachers , we must remain observant and be ready to point out any incorrect alignment to students right at the onset, as this not only prevents pain or injury to the student, it also counters bad alignment habits from forming. As muscle memory is built up with a repeated practice of each pose, a proper foundation and alignment is important for a safe and beneficial practice. Prolonged misalignment could harm the body, especially so for those with existing medical conditions. As such, it is our duty as future teachers to ensure that alignment takes priority over achieving the “final product” of a pose, and we should reinforce this in our instructions to our students.
The body should never be rushed into a certain position until it is in correct alignment and ready to do so. If the body is not ready to get into the pose, one must acknowledge this with awareness and be reminded to take a step back and only try it again at some other point in time. Do not rush the body into a position it is not ready to be in at the moment. With time, practice and discipline, the body will eventually open up and the asana will come naturally along with its intended benefits.
General Alignment Rules & Guidelines
1) Standing postures may be viewed from 2 planes – frontal or sagittal
- Rule 1: All standing postures should create a right angle triangle
- Rule 2: Heels should be hip width apart for poses in frontal plane (e.g. Virabhadrasana 1) while heels should be in line for poses in sagittal plane (e.g. Trikonasana).
2) Standing postures may have a narrow or wide stance.
- Narrow stance – feet should be approximately 2 to 2.5 hip width apart and knee never bends
- Wide stance – feet should be approximately 3.5 to 4 hip width apart and knee bends
3) In a standing forward fold, the sit bone should be pointing up to the ceiling and hips should remain in a straight alignment with the malleolus.
Things to be mindful of while performing asanas:
- hyperextended elbows (micro bend the elbows where necessary)
- locked knees (do no engage the knee caps, micro bend the knees where necessary)
- rounded shoulders (keep shoulder blades in neutral position)
- tailbone tucked in (avoid anterior tilt of the tailbone, keep it neutral)
- stiffened neck muscles (RELAX!)
- open and exposed rib cage (keep ribs hugged in at all times)
- tightened facial muscles (RELAX!)
Claire Tan (200hr YTTC, Sep 2017 Weekday)