Is Perfect Alignment Necessary for Your Yoga Practice? We had this very discussion about the importance of practicing and teaching perfect alignment during my Yoga Teacher Training (200-hour) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Is it important to have very good or near perfect alignment? The answer yes and no. Like many things in life and in yoga, its complex. Teaching and practicing in near perfect alignment is helpful to learn the different poses in asana, and to reduce the risk of injury. However, focusing specifically on alignment may take you out of your mindfulness practice and make some poses uncomfortable or even impossible for you to do. What is the exact angle of the back foot in warrior poses? What is the exact optimal width of the feet in mountain pose? Should we strive for straightening or micro-bending the knee? The answer to these questions is that as long as it feels comfortable and is moving toward perfect alignment, it does not matter. The only thing that is truly important is to be in a position within your pose that promotes health and decreases the risk of injury. As in everything that has to do with yoga, alignment needs to be balanced.
Our bodies, and often our minds, tend to take the path of least resistance. We may want to muscle through a pose to get the alignment that we believe is the most health promoting. We may fear over-doing it and limit our ability to grow and reach beyond our current edge. Both of these are attitudes that won’t serve you well.
Two pitfalls of focusing on alignment are ego and individuality. Ego may tell us that we are achieving more when we can look or feel a certain way in a pose. In this way, we may strive for an alignment or expression of a pose that our bodies cannot do and are not ready for. It is better to strive for the closest alignment to “perfect” that feels spacious and right for you, which brings us to the idea of individuality. Everyone’s body is different, and each person will look a bit different in a pose. Some yogis with shorter limbs will have an easier time doing some poses than their wide-armed friends, and vice versa. Some poses will also come more natural to some bodies than others. Developing discernment and awareness for your own body becomes very crucial when you begin to adjust your alignment in yoga.
There is a lot to be gained when we find the edges of our practice, meaning that we should be pushing our limits every so often. However, once we know our edge, we should then begin to work back from it just a little and focus on the foundation of each pose right before the edge of that pose. Where is the alignment that is best for your body, that is not keeping you from excelling but neither moving you forward too quickly? A great teacher of this is the breath. If the body feels challenged but the breath is still deep and even, you are probably in a good place. If the alignment is “perfect” but the breath is shallow and labored, you may want to find a way to soften out just a bit.
No matter which type of yoga you practice or what you believe to be true about alignment, we can all agree that decompressing the neck is a great decision. Any time you can find length in the neck you will be promoting health. Most of us have enough neck extension and forward head postures in our everyday lives, we don’t need to recreate that in our yoga practices. Yet it is very difficult to know which way to move to “lengthen” the spine, especially in difficult poses. Learn how to spot bad neck postures and how to correct them in some of the foundational poses of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) in my YouTube video @ https://youtu.be/HrfmDjgihRE . This video shows you what it looks like to “lengthen out of the crown of your head” in many poses, including Half Lift, Down Dog, Cobra, Up Dog, Chaturanga, High lunge, Triangle, and Side Angle. Of course you may also spot some other bad postures (I’m not perfect yet). Make note of those too and see if you can’t improve your alignment in your own practice. As my yoga teachers say, alignment is about making the body more spacious in a pose to allow breath more freely. If you do not feel like you can breathe freely with these corrections, then find something that works for you.