On Alignment

In the yoga world, we often talk about alignment—one of the keys to mastering postures and truly feeling the benefits of yoga. There are many views and approaches to how we can best align our bodies in the forms and movements of yoga. There are also many reasons why alignment is so crucial to yoga practice. To begin with, we cultivate alignment in order to be safe and prevent injury, but over time it becomes an aspect of yoga practice that goes much further and deeper than the physical. In this post I want to explore the meaning of alignment and indicate some of its qualities, so you can see whether you’re engaging with it as fully as you could be.

Alignment is, first of all,  an internal, somatic quality. When we are in alignment, we feel that we are held—or that we are holding ourselves—from within. It is light, spacious and has a feeling of right. At the same time, coming into alignment frees up stuck energy and dissolves blockages, so we are more fully alive and our bodies are more open. This is one of the promises of yoga, and a large part of the transformation that happens on the mat.

Alignment is deeply individual, unique to each body and person. Your alignment is utterly your own. It is a natural part of your body, and, over time, something that you grow into, organically, the way that a plant grows towards the sun. As humans, and unlike plants, we sometimes forget or get confused about the direction in which we’re going. This is when a teacher or guide can help point us along the way. The teacher works by giving you the practice, and calling your attention to the ways in which you’re not aligned, or deviated from your centre. However, it’s worthwhile to remember that in the end, nobody outside of you can truly tell you when you are aligned—you have to feel it for yourself. In other words, you have to do the practice you’re given, and then you have to trust yourself.

Working with alignment requires that you are honest with yourself, willing to recognize where you are now and work with that reality. It implies letting go of beliefs and desires, and just focusing on what’s happening right now, in each movement and posture. It is not about trying to match the shape of your body to a prescribed shape that you have seen in an image or in your teacher’s body. Rather, it is about following the cues you’re given—whether visual or verbal—and taking them as gateways into your feeling-sense of your body. The cues help you discover your position and form, in relation to the earth and the space around you. The basic question is, what does it feel like to be in your body right now, in this pose or movement?

Alignment is a process, a journey that we embark on with each pose and each transition. It is not a fixed state that can be achieved. There are no goals. Our human body is constantly shifting, moving, growing, transforming—as is our alignment. It is recognizable, yet different, each time we come into it. Through practice, we develop sensitivity and resilience, learning to trace even subtle misalignments and respond to them spontaneously, without thought; bringing ourselves back home, again and again, to our natural, aligned form.