Alignment and Yoga
We talk a lot about alignment in our yoga classes at the Yoga Shed. So what does ‘alignment’ mean in the context of yoga and why is it so important?
Well, let’s start with a little context and respect for those who brought us these gifts of Yoga. Throughout the month of December, there are many celebrations and remembrances going on in honor of B.K.S Iyengar and Geeta S. Iyengar, both of whom shared birthdays in December.
B.K.S Iyengar is a key figure in the development of modern yoga; he emphasized the importance of precision and alignment in the practice of asana (yoga postures). His approach, known as Iyengar Yoga focuses on the use of props such as belts, blocks, and bolsters to help students of all ages and abilities achieve correct alignment in the poses.
Alignment begins with the physical body, but it does not end there.
In our practice of the asanas (yoga postures) we begin to cultivate an awareness of the physical body. “Straighten the elbows and raise the arms overhead” is something you might hear in a yoga class with us. It might be followed by something like “When you reach up through the arms, do you feel how the sides of the chest and spine elongate?”. This socratic method of doing, observing, and reflecting on the sensations within the body is one of the hallmarks of Iyengar yoga. With consistent practice we move beyond this initial layer to penetrate our awareness deeper within, to include a growing awareness of how these actions affect our emotional, mental, intellectual, energetic and breath bodies. In Yogic philosophy, we have several Koshas (or layers) of being. Our practice of yoga helps us to unite them, and indeed even the root of the word yoga (yuj) means to join, or unite.
Once you move beyond the initial physical and physiological effects of the practice, you begin to observe how the asana (postures) and pranayama (breathwork) practices affect not just your body, but they also have a profound effect on your overall sense of wellbeing.
What does alignment feel like?
Coming into alignment might feel like becoming aware of and then learning how to correct the imbalances within your body, using skillful action. This is learned in class, and often with the help of a teacher. I recall one of the first private lessons with my teacher, where she aligned my spine within adho mukha svanasana (down dog pose). She said “there, now you are straight in the center”, although I felt completely sideways! This is called proprioception, or the awareness of your body position. Often we are not aware in the beginning, and our yoga practice helps to refine our awareness. It gives us the experience to see ourselves clearly, and become more balanced, even, and aligned.
Energetically, being in alignment feels like the energy is flowing through us. That there are no blockages, or areas of tightness or dullness. Emotionally, it might feel like there’s a sense of balance, of even temperedness and an abiding calm. So that whatever challenges we are faced with, we have the inner space and fortitude to deal with them.
Being out of alignment would be the opposite. It might feel as if you have no space within your mind and body to deal with what’s going on. Or that any little difficulty is just too overwhelming. Luckily, yoga is rich with tools to cope well with life. It offers us so many ways to practice, and not just on the physical plane.
The Yamas and Niyamas
The ethical principles of yama and niyama are the foundation of our yoga practice. Without them yoga is simply calisthenics. Our practice of ahimsa (non harm) keeps us safe, and moving and acting with compassion for ourselves and others. The practice of satya (truthfulness) and santosha (contentment) encourage us to practice according to our needs and personal context. All of the ten yamas and niyamas are essential practices and observances that help us to live skillfully and well.
Parampara, the teacher-student relationship
In the age of zoom and online yoga classes, it has become even more important to discuss the importance of having a teacher-student relationship. While the explosion of online yoga classes has been a boon to many, myself included, it is not a replacement for in person yoga classes with an experienced teacher. Online yoga gives us access to teachers not physically near us, but it can never create the kind of deep connections we get from being observed in person, or adjusted by our teachers.
Beginner Yoga at the Yoga Shed in DeLand
If you are looking for a place to start your yoga practice, especially if you are new to yoga, join our beginner yoga series at the Yoga Shed! We are located in DeLand, and our yoga studio has been serving our community for more than a decade. We place an emphasis on alignment because it keeps you safe, not just as a beginner yoga student. Our students come from all walks of life, and all ages and abilities. Our skilled and experienced yoga teachers will guide you in such a way that you will leave feeling better, and empowered to take your health into your own hands.
We look forward to sharing the gifts of yoga with you.
In honor and recognition of the many teachers that have come before us,
Here are some ways in which we practice yoga at the Yoga Shed in DeLand. We’re located at 1407 Flight Line Blvd and can be reached at 386 943 9180