Is yoga about alignment? While it sounds like an obvious question with an obvious answer, it turns out to be a very deep and controversial matter! So easy to get entrenched in alignment as a cover for the deeper layers of yoga and our being, and then imagine that’s all there is. And therein lies the ‘core’ of the controversy. And here is what we know as yogis– we are deeply interconnected beings. When our body aches, it is usually a mouthpiece for other aspects of our being. When we hurt spiritually or emotionally, it shows up in our physical bodies. Sensitive subject! None of us likes to feel like we’ve created the space for pain in our body. Accidents confuse, things that happen ‘to us’ confuse and we hear ourselves saying, ‘this happened to me’ and since there is a date, and an incident, it’s a perfect place to hide. The question is, why is it that we are more or less vulnerable to injury and our responses vary so much based on the mood and life focus we were in when it happened? Things do and will happen to our bodies. I believe that yoga’s hand in healing is first, about giving us response time–a chance to take a breath (because we have been practicing!) and respond with subtle shifts inside and ease and trust and then, we can pull out the elements of alignment, to help us along. Here is another perspective; When our body aches, it is lighting the way for a self investigation, potential insight, and the courage and inspiration to make a shift not just in the body, (although that can be an indirect route to them all and sometimes appropriately simple and non threatening) but to the rest of us– mind, emotions, and spirit. Sometimes deeper consciousness is accessible, available and sometimes it’s too early, and actually healthy to work in the structural body. Work in this realm can unwittingly take us to a deeper place of self nourishment, which comes in many forms. People come into the world with very different palettes. For some, emotional is their natural way and physical is more awkward. Ideally and I believe undeniably, we use the natural strengths to reach into our more distant layers. I came in as a feisty athlete. And I’ve been grumbling about my more distant awkward layers, ever since. Less so now– since I found some roads in and open lines through yoga.
So in my world, alignment works as a jump off point, the underframe, as preventive medicine, when movement during asana is awkward or uncomfortable and as a means of building beautiful habits for melting what is awkward, and most of all, as a road into the silence of movement and a quiet mind.
I do realize there are other paradigms that work. Example: I walked into a level 2/3 class a while back and a former physical therapy patient of mine walked in 4 people ahead of me. As part of our work together, I had tried giving him some shifts for his walking, and for his fundamental yoga poses– to sturdy his frame. I guess he didn’t like it. He didn’t do it. When I saw him at class my first thought was how he was in a hard class for that spine of his. And then I spied a little, and he did not have ‘good alignment’ and, he had a wonderful practice– I saw no sign of pain on his face and he left with his same ‘unaligned’ gait. I think the idea that some rule or system works for all of us, might just be a conundrum. I’d like to be a teacher who knows, that my teaching is not for everyone, and that there are brilliant teachers who I admire and respect who have come to it a different way and who might be perfect for a guy I couldn’t reach, for whatever reason.
Three good alignment terms to know:
- Gravity Juice – The upward lift we get inside when we press down into the ground if we’re standing, or press the sit bones into the chair if we’re sitting. Press a little more than you think. Not enough to get stiff though.
- Eight Wheel Theory – Works in all asanas. the more we assert all 8 corners of the feet equally, the more integrated, belly on, stable spine, we get! ( imagine 2 cars for feet)
- The Whole Storefront – All three abdominal muscles (rectus femoris, transverse abdominals and obliques) sharing the job of stabilizing the spine so that hips and shoulders can be free!
Using Gravity for Sun Salutations– in 5 simple alignment/kinesiological chains through the body:
How does ‘grounding’ effect your sense of presence?
1st rule of gravity: for every action—there is and opposite and equal reaction. Sir Isaac newton.
We grow ‘core tall’, exactly as much as we are pressing down! It’s physics! Try it!
1. Stand with your feet hips width, and assert all 8 wheels (like 2 cars) into your mat as if someone was trying to pull the mat out from under you. Finding 8 of them can be evasive. Take each and every one very seriously. When you have them all honestly equal, your ankles will roll less, your knees will not lock, your hips will have the action of internal rotation, and that’s just the lower body benefit. When we set the base downstairs, upstairs complies! belly turns on, breath pattern is like a bellows, shoulders have the action of external rotation, head lives on top of the body instead of in front and the most important thing—gravity juice! We get lifted up inside–core tall, core of the core—tall. I know that sounds too simple to be true, but it is so.
How does grounding effect your breath?
2. Inhale and take your arms up as if they are pressing water skyward (keep your 2 cars). Always keep your hands, as they go up and down within your peripheral vision, i.e. straight out to the sides rather than behind a little ways. This keeps your belly (which I’ve been referring to as the whole storefront) on and, frees the shoulder joints so you can get to your spongy end ranges of the joints that feel delicious, and not awkward. When something feels awkward, it is! Search for the softly strong in every movement.
“Reach from your center. Return to your center.” Jack Kornfield.
3. Hinge forward at the hips on an exhale. (2 cars) If bending knees gives the slack needed to have a long straight spine, bend them as much as necessary for that. Arms reach away from each other….(more storefront!) and then hands to thighs or shins or floor, depending on where the placement best elicits deep lower belly strength, the action inside of hip internal rotation (inseams of legs roll back) and a drawing forward toward the front of your feet. (otherwise you lose the front wheels which loses ‘the storefront’ which destabilizes the spine)
When you are fully grounded, inhales are away from and exhales are toward your deepest center line , how is the strength of your belly?
4. Draw forward on your feet in an inhale so that arms coming up /out to the sides lifts you like you are peering over a cliff, and find the water to press (like #2 above) to get the arms all the way up overhead, which requires 2 cars, and gets the whole storefront to stay on and supports the spine stunningly,
When you are fully grounded, breath is centered, and belly is on, how are your shoulder joints as your arms ascend?
5. Exhale pressing the water back down to the sides, which again asserts the 2 cars, and draws the exhale to completion, eliciting once more the support of the storefront for the spine. Lower the heels of the hands a touch extra, to draw the shoulder joints back and down and add a little extra belly to the mix.
6. Bring your hands to your heart. look down. allow a soft breath, your current honest emotion, and a full on rest or portal , even if it’s just the space between a half breath. and …2 cars for this too. These notes will assimilate and ultimately become your new habits because they make sense to how we are indeed interconnected. Breathe deep and enjoy the lightness of movement that comes with feeling and knowing where you are in space.
Subjects to stay tuned for: Using Structural Habits as a Road In. Ways we meld ourselves around how we breathe, and What really are the components of our ‘natural’ breathing patterns. What is a kinesiological chain and how does it show up in Trikonasana- as an example. and is it ever, ‘just structural? How might a feeling state translate into our actual strengths, sense of how to move, agility? What did the sacrum say to the sternum? or vice versa! How important can these 8 wheels be? Why do our shoulders even want to roll in? Can ‘flat arches’ get lifted? If you have a suggestion for a topic, please contact me