What’s good about practicing poses the right way

In 2019 alignment is not the most popular word about yoga. Strict teaching sounds like something a little bit cultish and it reminds us of all of the unfortunate yogi stories about abusive gurus and the wrong use of power disguised by tradition. Modern practitioners step away from everything that is ‘a must do’ and that is true not only in yoga. We are nowadays not as easily persuaded into dogmas and structured doctrines and are encouraged to develop our own creativity and individual style in everything we do. Being strict is out of fashion and discipline is definitely not rhyming with innovation.

With this background in mind, I thought it is a good timing to talk about what is actually good about alignment (that strict discipline thing, you know) and why we shouldn’t kill it just yet. Maybe it’s just me being even more clever than everyone else and disputing the popular view just to be a smart ass. What is true to me though is that alignment is a very big part of my practice; it transformed my perception of body and self. Especially as a beginner yogi, it was by far more helpful for me to hear strict alignment cues than being told to ‘make it my own’ – alignment is actually what made me fall in love with the practice in the first place.

So to be more structural while talking about structure… Here are the main benefits of following strict alignment in yoga, or the taboo term ‘doing the postures right’:

  1. Focus on alignment creates a meditative state of mind that develops the part of our consciousness which is the intellect
  2. Practicing postures slowly and statically with attention to details decreases the chance of wearing out the joints
  3. Alignment develops active muscle engagement as well as active stretches which are harder to achieve during passive or rapid movements
  4. Alignment improves focus and encourages commitment
  5. Alignment is also a key element in yoga therapy, where postures has to be done in a certain way to actually correct instability in the feet, hips and spine, as well as effect other organs within the body that may need healing

The benefit that stands out the most for me is that alignment is actually an amazing tool to get to know yourself better – it creates a unique body-mind connection. When you give a mission to each part of your body (rather than giving it permission to do whatever), you are much more involved, you notice more. In alignment practice, the body has a task that it is actively pursuing and the mind has to keep up with lots of details at once, this is where the practice becomes transformative. When you just let the body ‘be the way it is’ giving it only vague, loose instruction – well… I guess you just won’t see much of a change, because there’s just not that much action happening. The fact is that if we give less attention to detail, we see less detail which means we miss on a lot of the beauty of the practice.

Building alignment through assisted practice with props

This is not at all written to bag on passive styles of yoga (which I also teach and practice) or on the need to adjust the practice to the special needs of some students. Yes alignment practice, or practicing postures the way they traditionally were set to be done, doesn’t suit everybody and that’s OK. I just felt the need to celebrate alignment for what it is and not for what it is not. Also, if the alignment of the pose doesn’t suit your body due to injury, how about you just take a different variation or choose another pose rather than breaking alignment in the sake of ‘letting go’ or because ‘it feels good’? It is always better to start with a discipline and then work yourself up to be able to express yourself freely in the yoga postures that you already ‘know’. Not all traditions are a cult and there are lots of benefits to doing things ‘the right way’.

Namste,

Anna Bukchin

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