Why is alignment important when practising yoga?
No two bodies are the same. We are all individual, with different proportionate lengths of our various body parts. This means that no two people practising a yoga pose
will do it exactly the same way. So a pose that I can do, another person will do it a little differently. His/her pose will look distinct from mine and neither of us will be the same as the picture in a yoga book. Sometimes we can become fixated on how a yoga pose “should” look and then try and force our body into that shape based on some idealised version of it. But this will not lead to the benefits that yoga, when practised with an open mind and heart, can enrich the yogi with.
However alignment is of great importance when practising yoga. It maximises the benefits of the asanas. When we practising with the correct alignment, strength & flexibility can be achieved without causing any pain, discomfort or injury.
It is important to bring to mind the focus and purpose of a pose when doing it. For example, when practising a forward bend such as Pashimotonasana (Seated Forward Bend), the physical benefits of this pose when practised correctly are to stretch the hamstrings and lengthen the entire spine. To achieve this, it helps to keep the back as straight as possible and hinge forward from the waist. The middle and upper back are not as flexible as the waist joint so the tendency can be to hunch the mid section. As it is easier to stretch from our more flexible areas this is what we often do.
I often observe this when students are practising “Cat Cow Pose”. As the neck is the most flexible part of the spine they over use it but don’t move the middle back at all, which is the least flexible area. But by practising with awareness we can avoid this habit. Ideally we are trying to feel all part of the spine move equally between our inhale and exhale when doing Cat Cow pose.
When we practise without due attention being given to alignment we put unnecessary stress on our joints. For example in a standing pose such as Warrior I or II we need to align the heel and knee, otherwise over time we can cause injury to the knee. In fact it is often the joints, knees, ankles, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck and waist that suffer if our alignment is out of sync.
With attention to proper alignment, yoga helps to strengthen weaker areas and release areas of tension, helping to realign the whole body. When we practise in this way we can rid the body from pains and improve posture. As the body moves into better alignment, circulation improves, muscles move more freely and this leads to a more relaxed natural state.
Alignment of the bones and joints bring the body into better balance and brings a balanced flow of energy within the body.
Attention to alignment is about much more than making a list of points to remember while performing a particular pose. It’s a way to develop body awareness and this can affect many aspects of life positively.