Whether in relation to body, mind or spirit, proper alignment should feel good in that deep down knowing sort of way.
In recent weeks, the idea of alignment keeps coming to the forefront of my mind—what it is, what it means, and how it can guide us, both in our yoga practice and in our lives.
In yoga, of course, we regularly hear about alignment—i.e.: “place your front knee directly over the ankle and aligned with the middle of the foot.” In most cases, these cues serve to inform the body about optimal positioning when doing a pose. Just as we wouldn’t want our car to be out of alignment because it would cause undue wear and tear on our tires; similarly, when our poses are not properly lined up, it can also cause unnecessary wear and tear on our precious bodies!
Although “alignment” continues to be an important part of my teaching, what I’ve noticed is that my definition of alignment has shifted along with new understanding. What does it really mean to be aligned? What does “proper” alignment do to the body or for the pose? And do the standard alignment cues work for everyone?
The more I learn, the more I know that one pose performed a certain way does not fit all bodies, nor should it. We are unique, fascinatingly different human beings with bodies that are not all the same. The variations seem endless! Yoga teacher Leslie Kaminoff said this: “Every pose is entirely dependent on the body in which that pose is performed as well as the context in which the pose is performed.”
And B.K.S. Iyengar, the yoga master whose teachings changed the yoga world, said: “It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.”
So now I feel like we are getting somewhere. Proper alignment should feel good in that deep down knowing sort of way. When your pose or your life is aligned with your truth, you can breathe, you move from the center of your being, you know your purpose and can feel the energy moving—even when it is hard. There is continuity in your body, in your mind, in your soul that knows it is on the right track. Conversely, when you aren’t in alignment with your highest and best good or with what you know to be your authentic self, you know it; you feel it. Sometimes it is the still soft voice sending you a nudge to change directions; sometimes it’s the cosmic 2×4 hit making sure you are paying attention.
So how do we bring our lives into more alignment? How do we know what is right for us and what isn’t? Well, first we pay attention to our own heart, and then we decide if we are ready to listen.
It’s not easy being a human being in this world (although I imagine it’s a lot easier for most of us than it would have been at any other time in history). There are wants and desires, temptations and lots of empty holes to fill. So often, we seek out an expert’s advice (which is also important), but then disregard our own knowing. What if we learned to trust ourselves more? Maybe we listen to a teacher’s cues to move the knee this way, then check in to see if that adjustment moves us toward healing or toward hurting. Maybe we notice the strain and stress of our lives and do one or two things differently to lessen the heavy load. Maybe we let go of the unnecessary to make room for the things, people, and ideas that feed our souls. Maybe we pause to consider all of the amazing things that had to align just to bring us where we are today, and then find gratitude for the journey.
For me, I wish it were easier, yet I know that just thinking this way makes it that much harder. It is what it is. We all have the ability to change what we can, the ability to accept what we cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Our happiness is not derived from the wish for things to be different. We just have to feel where the discord is and then decide to move from there. Iyengar said this: “We practice asana in order to create an environment of quiet and ease in the body, so that the mind can also dwell in quiet and ease.”
Can we find harmony, balance, alignment, and joy in our poses instead of seeking someone else’s idea of the perfect pose? Can we move toward these same ideals in our lives without the need to be or do or have it look like anyone else’s life? I think we can. When we tap in to the flow of our lives—the sublime alignment that flows both from within and all around us, we move one step closer to being who we were meant to be.
I leave you with this beautiful poem by Nick Askew:
A man lived perpetually in the summertime of his own life.
He lit up the world that surrounded him.
Unannounced. And unintentional.
Some who met him would wonder where the light came from.
And of those who wondered,
some would realize that it had nothing to do
with the outward circumstances of his life.
And of those who realized,
some would know that the very same light
waited for the chance to shine from deep inside themselves.
And for those who knew,
and would reach for the courage to let it shine,
Mary Boutieller is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at: SimplyogaOm@gmail.com.