Do you ever wonder if your alignment in a yoga pose is correct? The word ‘alignment’ is thrown around a lot by yoga teachers, often without really explaining what it means for the body to be ‘aligned.’ Alignment simply means positioning the body in a way that allows you to get the full benefit of the pose while avoiding injury. Although alignment can vary between yoga styles, the following five tips are pretty universal and can be applied to almost any yoga pose! Try these out, feel the difference in your body, and allow them to transform your practice!
1. Lengthen the spine.
Unless you are doing a backbend or are explicitly cued by your teacher to round your spine, keep your back long and straight during your yoga practice. Although it is very tempting, especially in forward bends, to round our backs, we must keep our spines long. We spend all day slumped over in a car, at a desk, or on a couch. Don’t let this wicked habit cross over into your yoga practice.
Examples: In forward bends such as Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) and Upavista Konasana (Wide Leg Seated Forward Bend), don’t let the temptation to bring your face close to the floor or your knees guide you. Instead, maintain the integrity and length of your spine even if it feels like you’re not going as “far” into the posture.
2. Keep your shoulders away from your ears.
We build up and store so much tension and stress in our shoulders and neck in our daily lives that we become unaware of it. This build-up of pressure restricts the energy flow in our body, limits our yoga practice, and can be just plain painful on top of that! Allow your yoga practice to reverse this unhealthy habit by actively bringing your shoulders down and away from your ears during your training.
Examples: In postures where your arms are extended above your head, such as tree pose and chair pose, experiment with raising your shoulders as close to your ears as you can, and then move them down and as far away as possible from your ear. You might want to bend your elbows or separate your arms a bit. Feel the difference in your shoulders and neck, and your posture and practice in general.
3. Inhale and open, exhale and close.
As you transition in and out of postures, align your breath with each movement. When you open or widen your chest in any posture, inhale. When you close your chest or torso, exhale. This matches the natural tendency of the chest and abdomen to expand on the inhalation, and contract on the exhalation.
Examples: In Surya Namaskar A and B, inhale as you lift your arms over your head and open your chest and exhale as you bring your arms toward your feet and fold forward.
4. Tuck your tailbone.
I once had a yoga instructor tell me my body was more like a belly dancer’s than a yogi’s because of the exaggeration in the curve of my lower back. Our lower backs-or the lumbar area-are already pretty weak from sitting in chairs all day. Sticking our booties out and over-exaggerating this curve only makes this structural issue worse. Finding alignment by tucking our tailbone protects our lower back by engaging and strengthening our core muscles.
Examples: In standing postures such as Virabadrasana A (Warrior 1), Virabadrasana B (Warrior 2), and Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), draw your stomach toward your spine and tuck your tail-bone to protect your lower back.
5. Equally, distribute your weight.
To create a strong, balanced foundation for your standing postures, your weight should be equally distributed throughout the four corners of your feet. If your feet are misaligned, or your body weight is off-center, it will be challenging to maintain a tall, spacious, and grounded pose. Without this foundation, it will also be nearly impossible to maintain proper alignment throughout the rest of the body.
Examples: Experiment with your feet in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Ideally, in this pose, your body weight will be evenly distributed between the heel and ball of the foot and the outer and inner foot, with your toes spread wide for support and balance. Once you find this alignment and balance in Tadasana, you can apply it to all standing and balancing postures.