Yoga and Alignment of Postures

“This is where yoga asanas are so very effective, they are holistic and will eventually bring the body back into balance provided we stick to correct and appropriate alignment”

Properly aligned postures will help to heal both the subtle body and the gross body, allowing energy to flow freely on all levels. A poorly aligned posture will create tension and stop the free flow of energy, it can also lead to harm and even injury to the body. A poorly aligned posture will only be a reflection of patterns in our body. Poor posture has a knock on effect throughout our entire body, and as our body is constantly communicating with our brains, we can see poor posture has the potential far reaching consequences.

Not only does poor posture effect our physical body, it will affect our emotional well-being also. Take a personality type who has difficulty in engaging with people or in social situations. This may well be reflected in their posture, making them stoop with the shoulders and chest collapsing inwards. As if they are trying to hide from the world. It may also be reflected in tension and anxiety, causing not only stiffness in the body, but if the symptoms persist it will result in real physical damage. I may be generalising, and of course every one body is unique and different and must be treated as such, but there are general patterns that crop up over and over again.

One of the great privileges of teaching for so long is the chance to encounter countless bodies and how they quite often follow similar patterns. It can be a great insight into how the body works, and how the body only reflects our inner world, and how often the simplest advice is the most effective.

One of the most common questions I am asked in class is how to lengthen the hamstrings or open the hips. It all comes down to basic posture, and how we stand and sit. This is where I usually point my students, most will expect a complicated regime of stretches but it really is very simple in most cases.

This is where yoga asanas are so very effective, they are holistic and will eventually bring the body back into balance provided we stick to correct and appropriate alignment. By appropriate alignment I mean there are basic rules when adjusting students into postures, although as I said we are all different so may react differently as well. For the purposes of this discussion though I will stick to basic alignment and adjustments. One of the most common examples I can think of is when I was a very young yoga student, the regular and usual verbal adjustment in Tadasana would be to tuck the tail-bone. I understand why, but if you have a student with a low flat back, the worst advice would be to tuck the tail-bone. It will make matters worse not better, so instead of a general instruction like that a more holistic approach would be to get your class to know how to bring the pelvis to a neutral position. The neutral pelvis position will encourage the spine to also sit in a neutral position.

How do we get our students to think about a neutral pelvis? Again this will vary but the usual advice will be to push into the floor evenly through the soles of the feet. This is achieved by engaging the pads and heels simultaneously, leaving the toes in neutral themselves. The action of engaging the feet in this way usually draws up the arches and inner thighs, and this combined action will draw in the belly below the navel (Nabhi bandha). This will be quite a subtle action, but enough to tilt the pelvis up slightly at the front. This will engage the rectus abdominus supporting the pelvis, freeing up the lower back. If needed a yoga brick between the thighs usually brings it home.

One of the most effective and simple pieces of advice I can give is to get away from habitually sitting on the sofa at home and sit on the floor as much as you can. If needed sit with your back against the sofa, keep the legs straight and sit upright. Mix this with crossing the legs. Start small and build up, this will work on the hips, hamstrings and QL muscles at the lower back. Keeping the legs together and the feet flat will work the adductor’s (inner thighs) Crossing the legs will stretch the piriformis, Sartorius, lengthen the quadriceps (thighs) and keep the IT bands supple. These simple things will make a massive difference to basic posture, therefore your yoga asanas.

Martin Thompson