How important is yoga posture alignment, really?

When we practice yoga we often wonder if the poses we are doing are correct, and perhaps wonder why they look differently on us than on others. Yoga teacher Silvia explains what is important in aligning and refining our yoga poses, and also how functionality and aesthetics affect the way we do poses, as well as what our own uniqueness has to do with it.  

Correcting Yoga posture alignment, does it really matter?

When I first started practicing yoga asanas (physical yoga postures), I felt great and liberated, but also at times quite awkward. I felt myself getting stronger, standing up straighter, but also wondered ‘Am I doing this right?’. Some poses didn’t quite click for me,  and in no way looked as great as everyone else’s. Many great teachers have helped me align and improve my asanas, but most of all, have helped me feel into them, understand them in my own body, and express them from the inside out rather than perform the perfect looking poses.

What is yoga pose alignment? It is using your whole body in an integrated way to move it into a specific shape, aligning it correctly in order to hold a pose and gain the most benefit from it. 

A correctly aligned pose will allow you to use the right amount of muscular strength, mobility, and flexibility in your practice. It will help you both in yoga, and also in your life, the way you walk, hold yourself, and your self-confidence and promote general ease and comfort. Probably most importantly, a long-term yoga asana practice will help you be able to sit and meditate for longer periods of time without strain on your back, hips, and neck.

Uniting the body and mind

In class, you hear a teacher’s instructions about where to place your feet, how to hold your spine, where to engage a muscle in your leg, your belly, how to reach through your arms, etc. You are absorbing and translating these instructions into physical action which is creating a pathway each time from your mind to your body, uniting the two. Once you get familiar with this, things start to ‘click’ and make sense. Then the real fun begins – learning to breathe correctly while doing a pose, which is the ultimate ‘alignment’, and the asana’s true expression. It is meditation in movement.

Some insights about Yoga posture alignment:

1. Your body is unique.

Alignment for you might not be the same as for someone else. The build of your joints and proportions of the body vary greatly from person to person. For example, if someone tells you to straighten your arms over your head, straight for you might be very different than straight for someone else. There is only so far your skeleton and musculature will allow you to straighten your arm and this has to do with how your joint is built and bones naturally stack.  Finding the correct amount of effort in straightening to your limit and holding it there, is what your definition of ‘straight’ is. After some time, you might be able to change this and improve your range of motion, strength, and flexibility to a degree. If you were to force straighten your arms beyond your natural capacity, it might realign your spine, and overarch the upper back. Another place you see these differences is simple cross-legged positions, for many people they are very diverse.

If you are interested in learning more about this, you can check out these wonderful short videos by renowned yoga teacher Paul Grilley here and here where he introduces these ideas.

2. Use yoga props.

Blocks, belts, blankets, and chairs, are all wonderful ways to access and explore alignment in poses, even sometimes when you think you don’t need them. They help you learn to use the correct muscles, enter the pose gradually and spare yourself from injury. Check in with your teacher on how to use them.

3. Ask your teacher to break down the most common postures for you and check your alignment. Sun Salutations, warrior poses, backbends forward bends, etc. Ask your teacher to help you find your correct alignment for the most common postures that you do over and over frequently, and some insight about your unique anatomy so you have something concrete to work towards. Getting a few private lessons is a great investment and will make the group classes even more beneficial. If you’re really into it, there are many interesting yoga anatomy workshops out there too.

4. Be aware of ‘doing what feels good.

During our lifetimes we build up movement patterns, some are good and some can be detrimental in the long term. Bad movement patterns can come from sitting, doing exercises incorrectly for a long time, computer usage, old injuries that our bodies had to work around, etc. When we are told to do what feels good in a pose, we sometimes revert to a movement pattern that might feel comfortable in the body at the moment – but is actually furthering a posture or habit that doesn’t help our overall well-being or can even cause injury. Challenging our alignment and changing the way we do a posture in order to correct it might be a hard process and doesn’t always feel good, but that’s ok too. Try not to judge yourself if it’s hard, take it to step by step, and always remember to balance the amount of ease and effort you exert. This is what alignment is all about.

5. Functionality over aesthetic.

We all get inspired by a beautiful yoga pose, with long lines and fluid angles. That’s fine, but not when we lose the connection to our practice because we try to fit our bodies into postures that we are not ready for, or how it looks on someone else. The practice comes from the inside out, we feel inwards, we adjust, we breathe, engage, relax, and all of this combined makes a functional yoga pose. It works for you, and sometimes you will feel the aesthetic beauty too. But it’s not the priority or why we do it. Remember – yoga asana is meditation in movement and just one part of the big picture of our practice.

6. Keep it playful.

Try different things, and diversify your practice. Dare to unaligned and do something totally different, so you can feel the ‘other side of the pose, and then come back to the ‘classic’ alignment. Sometimes poses make sense to the body when you leave it for a totally different angle, and then come back to it. 

Summary

When I first became a  yoga teacher I was a bit too focused on getting everyone to do the yoga poses ‘correctly’, the way that I learned. In the end, it is you, the student, who taught me to let go of that rigidity and to realize alignment can be different for everyone. If we are too obsessed with perfection, that becomes a story the mind easily loops into, which is the exact opposite of what the yoga practice is all about. So, celebrate your own unique anatomy, stay curious and open, and never hesitate to ask your teacher for guidance, but most of all, enjoy the journey.

Hopefully, this is helpful, and always feel free to reach out to me to ask about alignment! This goes for everyone, past students, present students, it is really something I am passionate about. There is nothing like feeling the yoga practice progress and feel more connected, more intimate, and less rigid.

About Silvia

Silvia is a Yoga teacher, physiology enthusiast, and spiritual seeker. She is passionate about making the yoga practice accessible and functional for everyone and helping others find their personal expression with joyful movement.  Read full bio

How To Learn Telling Your Truth Even When It Feels Hard?

Have you ever heard of Satya – the yogic practice of Truthfulness?

Imagine yourself coming home after a nice shopping day. You just spent 300$ on some gorgeous boots and you feel a bit guilty, but hey, it’s been a while since you treated yourself and so what, money needs to flow, right? Your partner watches you unpacking your boots and he or she looks at you with a smile and says, “Oh, these must-haves cost a fortune, right?“. Before you think you hear yourself answer, “Oh no, I got them on sale, they were the last pair and I only paid 100$ for them. Aren’t they gorgeous?” You notice a little iffy feeling inside of you, and wonder why were you not just sharing the truth?

Sounds familiar?

We all do it in some form or another, we cancel dinner dates saying we committed already to something else, when the truth is, we just don’t feel like seeing anybody and rather stay home. These might seem like small lies with little consequences, but what I am getting at is that it’s so much more liberating to learn to speak your truth.

So why are you afraid to tell your truth? 

Every time you don’t speak your truth or honor your needs, you’re not acting with the fullest integrity towards yourself. In the end, how can you fully trust yourself if you’re finding excuses or lying about things here and there? To train your muscle of Self Trust and Confidence you can start by learning to speak your truth. Every time you catch yourself wanting to find an excuse or use a little lie, instead take a deep breath and share what’s really true for you. 

Satya

“In the Vedas and later Sutras, the meaning of the word Satya evolves into an ethical concept about truthfulness and is considered an important virtue. It means being true and consistent with reality in one’s thought, speech, and action.”

The beauty is that when you start sharing your truth from a soft, honest place in your relationships, it will be well received. And it’s like you’re building your muscle of truth as you keep doing it. Starting with the “small stuff”, it feels so liberating, that you will get more courageous to also share your bigger stuff. 

You’ll create more trust in yourself and feel more connected to your own needs. You’ll also practice receiving truth from other people with more softness and less judgment.

The practice of Satya through Dyad

Here’s a great practice, known as Dyad, which totally saved my relationship during Covid Lockdown. We were having a hard time communicating, missing our own space, and were getting into constant little nagging arguments, which we normally don’t do. So we started the practice of Dyad or Sacred Space. Each person gets to share for 10 minutes (times can vary, you can also do a few rounds like 3x 10 minutes each) and while one person speaks, the other only listens. After 10 minutes you say only thank you and switch to the 2nd person. After the 2nd person finishes you either stop or do another round (I love doing this also on retreat, it’s great with people you don’t know so well too). You don’t comment on what the other person said and just let it be spoken and heard. 

What is so great about this?

In my own experience, the practice contributed to deepening my relationship with my partner. I have come to really love Daniel again for the unique person he is. I see how he moves through his day, what he feels, what he thinks about and it’s free of my own lens of judgment or assumptions. I often felt there wasn’t enough space for me in our relationship to say all I wanted to say, yet in this practice often I didn’t know what else to share and had 4 minutes left! So I would consciously think about how I want to spend the next 4 minutes and often use it for gratitude and appreciation towards Daniel or my life. I can only tell you how much it has improved our life and communication. When we were going through this rough time we did the practice daily, these days we do it maybe once a week. Note: It’s not necessary to make it about your relationship, you can use your time to share ANYTHING you like to share. But of course, it also helped us to communicate relationship issues. Just be honest!

Summary

Satya creates harmony, and trust me, those people who are not willing to listen to your truth or let you be who you want to be? Maybe it’s time to shift and create new relationships. But always remember, everything starts with you. Your willingness to speak the truth will encourage others to be honest with you, and wouldn’t you want that?

About Dagmar

Dagmar Spremberg is the founder and director of Montezuma Yoga in Costa Rica. While growing up in Germany all she could envision for herself was a life in the sunshine and under palm trees. After 20 years of soul searching and many detours that let her explore city life in Los Angeles and New York, she found her dream life by the beach in the lush & tropical nature of Costa Rica. Through her own experience, she believes that everybody can live their dreams and that our work is to become clear and open to receiving the gifts we all deserve.

Spiritual Activism: Being Mindful In Deep Connection

In this time we are living in, there are many changes happening around us, some are very positive. The world is becoming smaller and we are all seeing very clearly that we are part of a global family. This is a positive thing as the old divisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant and we can have the opportunity to treat the whole planet as one living organism. On the other hand, we are on a very dangerous slide to complete environmental collapse as global warming and environmental destruction are increasing every day and governments are doing very little to make real change.

“It’s my conviction that we cannot change the world if we’re not able to change our way of thinking, our consciousness. Collective change in our way of thinking and seeing things is crucial. Without it, we cannot expect the world to change. Collective awakening is made of individual awakening. You have to wake yourself up first, and then those around you have a chance.”

Thich Nhat Hanh: “Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet”

First, we need to look very carefully at the source of all the problems we are facing today. How can we really solve a problem unless we find the real source? Otherwise, we are not uprooting the difficulties at their source and they will keep coming back again and again. Everything around us in the human realm has been created by our minds. Our cities, the internet, our country borders everything we have developed by the power of human consciousness. So many positive things have come and also many destructive things have come from this powerful human mind. So the solution to our problems must also come from our minds. How can we hope to eliminate the greed that destroys the amazon, the hatred that creates division and wars, and the ignorance leading to apathy so that nothing changes, if our mind is full of greed, hatred, and ignorance?

Real spiritual activism starts with ourselves. And from there it will spread outward to change the world

If we try to make an external change coming from an angry or fearful mind then our minds are burned first and then enemies are created, and the whole divisions of right and wrong start appearing. Suspicion and paranoia start to invade our minds and we see the governments or secret societies are out to enslave us or so many other fears can start to appear. The angry mind is not clear, it doesn’t make the right decisions and anger only creates more anger in ourselves and others.

If we try to make an external change with a greedy, self-obsessed mind then everything is seen only in relation to what benefits our personal ideas, not reality as it is. Again paranoia appears and we are caught in the trap of trying to protect what is ours, our country, our family, our livelihood, instead of seeing the interconnectedness of everything we only see through our paranoid lens of self-absorption fuelled by fear and insecurity.

If we are simply ignoring the situation, not taking action, pretending that these problems we are facing will just go away on their own, and we continue to avoid looking, feeling the enormous problems we are facing today, then we are really down a dangerous path. The human mind is an expert at fabricating reality and not so good at seeing things as they are. Especially if action is needed that will upset the comfort or security of the individual.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are no easy solutions to the problems we face internally and externally, but we can start with our own minds. We can see when actions are motivated by anger or fear and step back until clarity arises, then take action if needed. We can see when our minds are dominated by greed and we can create some space to feel the interconnection of all things, until clarity arises, then take action if needed. We can see our lazy comfort mind that pretends things are ok when the house is on fire, and wake it up. Clarity will come and we can take action if needed.

The awakening of clarity is the key to real solutions, and how we get clarity is through mindfulness.

A practice in mindfulness to develop clarity

Mindfulness practice is at the heart of Buddhist spiritual practice, essentially mindfulness means to be present and not be distracted. The whole heart of effective spiritual activism rides on our mindfulness. It is a practice in the sense that we have to be interested first of all in waking up from our anger, greed, and dullness, then we will automatically start to bring our attention to our lives in a mindful, deeper way. The best way to develop mindfulness is to put your full attention on the present moment. Whatever you are doing, do it in a mindful way. For instance: we may be eating a sandwich for lunch and instead of being completely there, tasting the sandwich, we may be talking with someone, scrolling through social media, or just lost in our heads. The moment has been lost, and in a real sense, if we are distracted in this way most of the time our whole life is lost. Our life exists in the present moment, not in a distracted mind running into the future or past.

So the simple practice is: when you are eating your meals, just be completely present with each moment. Eat mindfully.

Start with this and then move into other things in your life, like washing the dishes, cleaning the house, or working on the computer. Be mindful of each moment. But start with the small things, like eating. Let your mindfulness expand to your whole life, then it will move beyond you into your family, your town, your country, and the whole world. Imagine if everybody on the planet was interested in being mindful! What a different world this would be.

May all beings be mindful and loving.

Namaste

Kevin Sahaj

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

John Lennon

About Kevin Sahaj:

Kevin Sahaj is a dedicated yoga practitioner who has been studying and practicing yoga for 30 years. His approach to teaching is eclectic and draws from many different methods and teachings to help students align their lives towards awakening. His focus is to offer the right method for the individual according to their needs and aspirations. He is the life partner of Katiza Satya and together they are leading the Delight Yoga Teacher training and offering guidance in the spiritual direction of the school.