Proper Alignment: Breath, Body, Attitude
What do you think when you hear the phrase ‘proper alignment’ or ‘good posture’? If you’re like some people, visions of an eager solider standing stiffly at attention may come to mind. Or perhaps,a delicate young lady carefully balancing a book on her head? This is NOT what we mean by proper alignment.
Proper alignment involves more than standing erect or body position. In this article we discuss three components to proper alignment that work together to form a balanced, properly aligned yoga practice.
Breathing is the foundation of every hatha yoga practice. It’s important that you align your breath with the movements, or flow, of your yoga practice. While breathing techniques and patterns may vary according to the style and goals of your yoga practice, there area few general guidelines for basic yoga breathing
1. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
2. When you inhale your belly should expand like a balloon (get bigger, stick out)
3. When you exhale your belly should get smaller, as your navel falls toward your spine.
Ideally your exhale should be as long or longer than your inhale.
4. Inhale as you stretch, lengthen or open the body.
5. Exhale as you relax into a pose or close the body.
There is no room for competition, criticism or self judgment in your yoga practice. When you come to the mat, align your attitude so that you are working with your body, not against it. Give your body permission to move forward, rather than forcing or commanding it to perform. If your attitude starts to stray, here are a few tricks you can use.
Recognize and Relax
If you begin to compare yourself to a classmate or to the teacher, notice and label the behavior, “comparing”. Then give yourself permission to set that thought aside. You can use this same thing with ‘competitive thoughts’, ‘insecurity’, ‘pushing too hard’, etc.
Focus on Your Breath
If your mind just won’t stop, shift your focus to your breath. Count each inhale and exhale. Notice the way your belly expands as you inhale and the way it contracts when you exhale. Notice that the air is dry and cool as it enters your nostrils and warm and moist as it leaves. Notice whether your exhale is longer or shorter than your inhale. Focus on your breath, not on external thoughts.
Listen to Your Body
Ask your body what it needs and abide by that with joy and pride. Notice I said, ‘ask your body’, NOT your ego. Notice whether you are listening to your body or your ego.
Proper body alignment of the bones, joints and muscles increases stability, while reducing the chances of injury. In Hatha Yoga it is far more important to use proper body alignment than it is to get into a pretzel pose. One of the biggest mistakes that beginners make is to try to do too much and push beyond their capabilities. The result is improper alignment and increased likelihood for injury. What proper body alignment entails depends entirely upon the pose and person involved. That said, here are a few general rules:
When lunging the knee should not extend past the toe.
Shoulders should always be back and down, never sink into your shoulders or scrunch them up by your ears, particularly in weight bearing postures like plank and chataranga.
Seated spinal twists and unsupported forward bends are not advised for those who suffer from Osteoporosis.
In most instances, keep the tailbone tucked.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning a yoga practice or any fitness program to find out if there are any other alignment issues that you need to be aware of. This is particulary important for pregnant women, sedentary individuals, obese people, or those recovering from injury.