Teaching Yoga: The Importance of Asana Alignment in Yoga
For teachers and practitioners of Yoga, it is easy to get caught up in the challenge of a pose. You strain muscles and stretch limbs to reach the perfect expression, demonstrated by a teacher, a video, a picture, or just depicted within your mind's eye. Yet, by driving for perfection in your poses, you can often lose sight of what is much more important in practicing Yoga – whatever your perceived level: The alignment of the asana.
Asanas, positions, or poses in Hatha Yoga, can be practiced at many levels, from easy to difficult. Making sure that your asana is aligned, means paying attention not only to the shape your body is trying to make, but what muscles and leverage it is using to get there. In Downward Facing Dog, for example, the general shape of the pose is a triangle, with one line formed by your torso and arms, and the other line formed by your legs, as you face the ground. The value of the pose, however, comes from the alignment of your limbs and your muscles, with feet, hips, shoulders, and hands all in the same line, and equal support coming from your upper and lower body.
Alignment is crucial to a beneficial Hatha Yoga practice for several reasons. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, proper alignment is essential to avoid injury during practice. If your shoulders, hips, knees, or neck, are out of line with the rest of the pose, training or spraining becomes much more likely – no matter how experienced you may be. Especially, when asanas increase in difficulty for more athletic Yoga practitioners, proper alignment is even more important. For those who "already know what they are doing," the ego may push them further than they should safely be.
Additionally, proper alignment in a Yoga pose helps you to get the most out of your practice. Your body can take shortcuts in the way that you approach certain poses, even when you are consciously trying your best. In Warrior I, for example, checking to make sure that your shoulders are aligned with your hips, as you reach for the sky, engages your lower and upper back muscles. This engagement not only makes your pose more stable in the moment, but it also strengthens more muscles with the same amount of practice. In turn, this will speed up your physical results and produce a more toned physique. Every Yoga practitioner, from the most experienced teacher to the most novice beginner, can benefit from focusing on alignment.
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