Alignment in yoga is a structure that encourages balance, stability, and mind-body connection.
When taking an alignment yoga class, you will notice a focus on how poses are being executed, the position of your joints, and often the integration of props and aids.
Today, we’ll cover everything you need to know about yoga alignment. We’ll look at:
- Foundations of Alignment Yoga
- Benefits of Practicing Alignment Yoga
- Key Poses in Alignment Yoga
- Incorporating Alignment Principles into Daily Practice
Let’s jump right into it!
Foundations of Alignment Yoga
There are many different elements that form the basis of alignment yoga. Different yoga classes and instructors will prioritize different principles, but each holds significance when it comes to alignment yoga.
Let’s take a look at some of these key principles!
- Start from the ground up: It is important to be steady and have a solid base for any pose that you are doing. Begin with the part of your body that is supporting your weight and slowly engage your muscles as you align your body.
- Engage the right areas of the body: Make sure you are aligning your body so the right muscles are stretching and strengthening. This depends on the pose, so do a bit of research or have a chat with your yoga instructor to help you target the right areas of your body.
- Align your neck and spine : Your neck is an extension of your spine, so make sure that you are keeping them aligned during yoga. This will aid in everything from stability in poses to breathing.
- Alter poses when necessary: Yoga is about listening to your body – not every pose is going to work for every body type. If you feel that a pose is too difficult, don’t be afraid to tweak it to suit your body. This will keep you comfortable and prevent injury.
- Use props or aids for alignment: Alignment yoga encourages the use of props such as yoga blocks to help with better alignment. While the focus should be on what your body can do, props can be a great aid to help you achieve more difficult poses.
The Role of Breath
Controlled breathing not only will put you in a more relaxed state and connect your mind and body; it will also physically align you.
Awareness and control of your breathing can eliminate joint compression and other physical imbalances in the body.
Alignment yoga is not something that you want to do while on autopilot. Being conscious and aware of each movement that you make – as well as your breathing – is going to completely change how you experience alignment yoga.
Benefits of Practicing Alignment Yoga
When it comes to practicing alignment yoga, the benefits are endless. Many people who try alignment yoga describe it as the beginning of a complete lifestyle change due to the impact that it has.
First, and likely most noticeably, there are the benefits that alignment yoga can have on your physical well-being.
Alignment yoga can contribute greatly to improved posture, increased flexibility, and the strengthening of your muscles.
Mental Clarity and Focus
The awareness of your breathing and the mind-body connection that comes along with alignment yoga can contribute to improved mental clarity and focus. This can manifest in enhanced concentration and mindfulness.
Emotional Balance and Stress Relief
Another benefit of alignment yoga is improved emotional well-being and reduced stress levels.
The combination of breathing awareness, mind and body connection, and improved physical health can result in emotional balance and stress relief.
Key Poses in Alignment Yoga
There are a few key poses in alignment yoga that you will notice in yoga classes or instructional videos. Let’s go over some of these poses and exactly how to execute them while considering bodily alignment.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
- Stand at the top edge of your mat with your big toes together and heels slightly apart
- Distribute your weight evenly between both of your feet. To do this, rock side to side, then forward and backward. Settle into a position where the weight distribution feels even
- Tilt your thigh bones back so that your sacrum tilts forward
- Lift your kneecaps and rotate your thighs slightly inward
- Relax your shoulders while lifting your chest. Pull your shoulder blades toward each other and down your back
- Lift your gaze, keeping your chin parallel to the floor
- Focus on each part of your body – ears, shoulders, ankles, and hips – and align them as best you can.
Tips for Mountain Pose:
- To avoid hyperextension of the knees, ensure they are not further back than your ankles
- Use a yoga block between your thighs to aid with leg alignment
- Stand against a wall while doing this pose to encourage good bodily alignment.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Begin on your hands and knees with your hands in front of your shoulders. Your fingers should be spread wide and your toes tucked
- Lift your knees off the mat, exhaling. Lengthen your back with your knees slightly bent
- Extend the back of your thighs behind you, stretching your heels towards the mat and straightening your knees
- Pressing the base of your index fingers into the mat, lift along your inner arms. Focus on alignment from your wrists to your shoulders
- Draw your shoulder blades towards your tailbone, relaxing your neck. Keep your head between your upper arms.
Tips for Downward-Facing Dog:
- For those with tight shoulders, it is best to place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders
- If this pose is feeling too challenging, bend your knees as much as needed for comfort
- Pay attention to your shoulders to avoid collapsing. Draw your shoulder blades away from your head and push against the mat for added stability.
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
- Begin from the Downward-Facing Dog pose, stepping your right foot forward until your toes are aligned with your fingertips
- Bend your front knee 90 degrees – your thigh should be parallel to the floor and your knee aligned above your ankle
- Move your left foot so it forms a 45-degree angle with the side of the mat
- Shift your left thigh bone back so your knee is straight
- On an inhale, raise your torso and arms. Keep your hands shoulder distance apart with palms facing each other
- Open and raise your shoulder blades, turning them away from your spine. Turn your triceps back and firm your triceps
- Continue pressing your left femur back and release your tailbone toward the floor. Shift your lower belly back and up away from your right thigh.
Tips for Warrior I:
- If you feel unbalanced during this pose, shift your front foot farther from the center of your body
- For those with back issues or who are struggling with this pose, try easing the bend of your front knee
- If you notice your front knee drifting inward, engage the outer muscles to maintain balance and alignment.
Additional Alignment-Focused Poses
The aforementioned poses are just a few of the many yoga poses that are great for alignment-focused yoga. Some other poses for alignment include:
- Plank pose – Balance on your hands and knees with your shoulders over your wrists. Straighten your legs and tuck your toes
- Cobra pose – Lie on your stomach, line up your hands under your shoulders, then lift your shoulders and upper body off the mat
- Tree pose – Begin in the mountain pose, then shift your weight onto your right foot, lifting your left foot off the mat. Bend your left knee and shift your hip to the left, then place the sole of your left foot against your right leg.
Incorporating Alignment Principles into Daily Practice
If you’re looking for ways to incorporate key alignment principles into daily yoga, then look no further. Here are some top tips when it comes to practicing alignment during yoga.
Mindfulness and Awareness
Awareness of your breathing and each movement that you make will increase your bodily awareness, aiding in the harmony of mind and body.
By focusing so intently on your body and its responses, your mind will naturally become more in tune with your body.
Using Props and Adjustments
There are many ways to use props and adjustments during yoga in order to achieve optimal alignment.
A yoga block between the legs or under the lower back can be a great aid, as can altering certain angles in poses that you are struggling with.
Consistency and Patience
Everyone wants to see immediate progress and improvement in any new hobby or practice, but this is never the case. Be patient and consistent – the results will show in time so long as you keep at it.
What is the importance of alignment in yoga?
Alignment in yoga is important as it creates stability, reduces the risk of injury, and allows you to practice poses in the best and healthiest way for your body.
How can I improve my alignment in yoga poses?
Being aware of your body and breathing can greatly aid your alignment in yoga poses. Taking note of where you are shifting your weight and the positioning of your joints will help you identify problem areas.
Can alignment yoga help with chronic pain or injuries?
Yes, not only does alignment yoga help you increase strength and flexibility, but it has also been proven to have benefits for those with chronic pain or injuries.
Is alignment yoga suitable for beginners?
Alignment yoga is suitable for beginners, as it is a slower form of yoga that is simple and easy to follow. Alignment yoga also encourages the use of props, making it suitable for those who may struggle with certain poses.
What are the common mistakes in alignment and how to avoid them?
Some common mistakes in yoga alignment are a lack of body awareness, uneven weight distribution, and a lack of focus on breathing. Paying close attention to your yoga instruction and your own movements will help with bodily awareness.