How to Make Yoga Alignment Work for You

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Always move in agreement with yourself. Conflict and aggression inside creates conflict and aggression outside. Peace creates peace.

When there is no more place for internal bullies, there is no more place for external bullies.

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The topic of alignment is an interesting one. In East Asian movement and healing systems, connection to your nature is central. So you learn to move your whole self with ease, grace, and coordination. Energy is unblocked, moving freely. Every part of you works happily and efficiently with every other part.

Learning to move always in alignment is how you form a positive connection first with your self, and from from here, with everything and everyone around you. So practice is given to learning about you. When you get to know everything you’ve got, you become very usable to yourself.

Part of this practice it to unlearn all the ways we’ve been taught to move unnaturally. For so much of our lives, we learn that when things get tough, it’s time to struggle and force our way to the top.

We carry too much tension into our movement, ignore how we feel, isolate one part of our body from another, hold our breath, and push hard.  This works, up to a point. But we each reach a level of challenge where it’s a breakdown strategy. It breaks us down.

You’re spending so much energy fighting against the challenges inside you that you don’t have anything left for the challenges outside. So we need a different strategy. We need to learn how to move in alignment with ourselves. Naturally.

Whether your study is calligraphy or combat, painting or healing, traditional Chinese and Japanese philosophy and practice has long centered on this connection to our nature. It’s a practice that doesn’t lead you to move out of alignment, so it’s not necessary to stop, pose, and fix things.

When you move in agreement with yourself, internal struggle falls away.  Which is most of the struggle.

The positions or forms are simply arbitrary waypoints, rather than goals which distract us. So your focus turns instead to being right here, where you are.

It’s a lifetime practice, something you can be better at when you’re 40 than 20, and again when you’re 80 than 40. In the beginning, maybe we don’t move so well, but we have other ways to get around. We can use force to overcome some of the obstacles we meet. But not all. We need a better way, so we keep practicing.

We learn not to push so much to be somewhere other than where we are.  We learn to be here.  It gives us a chance to understand what we are.  And from here, we can move.

Somewhere along the way, you’ll notice that you move better when things are easy, but not so good when things get tough. That’s ok. If you’re practicing with another person and you move unnaturally, they can point out your mistake through your connection with them. If you’re practicing on your own, you’ll sense this mistake as a break in connection with yourself. It won’t feel good. And now you have a new option. Rather than tuning out and pushing through when things don’t feel good, you can tune in, a find a better way.

Usually our mistakes involve disconnecting from our nature. When we’re disconnected, we move in a way that’s imbalanced and without coordination – for example, with too much tension, isolation of one part from another, poor body position, or leading from extremities rather than center – all of which blocks the free flow of energy.

Always we get back to where we need to be through a simple reconnection to our nature.

Energy isn’t something we need to direct or manipulate. It’s natural state is flow. We just need to get out of the way. We just need to be.

Which takes practice! It’s our path to effortless power. It allows us to heal what needs healing, go where we want to go, and achieve what we dream. Most important, it feels completely uninhibitedly good, to live this way.

Yoga in the last few decades is something quite different, and has grown obsessed with pose-based alignment. People are taught at great length to move awkwardly and out of alignment with themselves, and then to stop, pose, and fix the problem.

This fix generally takes one of two forms. In the first, a teacher attempts to externally manipulate the student into an idea of correct alignment. In the second, the student attempts to push their way into this same external idea of what’s correct for everyone.

From an Eastern perspective neither approach works, for several reasons.

1) There’s no such thing as a single correct alignment that looks the same on every person. That’s just an idea, with little connection to individual reality. We all have our own bodies, our own shapes and histories, each worthy of individual response.

2) It’s not possible to push or think your way into alignment with yourself.  That makes good sense on any imaginable level.

3) Alignment isn’t a disconnected static concept, it’s a holistic moving reality.  So alignment can not be achieved in static forms by disconnecting and pushing one body part at a time into some idea of what’s correct.  It is achieved by moving in harmony with yourself, as one whole connected being.  Which is what you are.

Alignment is found by practicing softness, so you become movable, creating a relationship between your body and breath, so your breath moves you, moving your body as one whole body from center, rather than as a collection of isolated parts, and creating a position that always supports where you are, and where you want to go next.

As with older Eastern forms, in Strala you learn to move always in alignment with your self, and we practice this equally using the forms from yoga, tai chi, qigong, Traditional Chinese and Japanese Medicine, and everyday human movement. You learn not to create problems that need fixing. And you’re able to do much more, with much less effort. Being in alignment with yourself also feels good, in everything you do.

So alignment is extremely important. When you move in agreement with yourself, it unlocks your complete potential. It also keeps you safe. At the same time, it’s useful to remember that maintaining a visual of “correct” alignment in a static position is a small part of the safety picture.

Most injury comes when we hold excess tension in our bodies and then carry this tension into movement, which brings the old high-school physics equation F = MA into the picture. Movement under excess tension is the problem. This tension becomes aggravation and injury when we disconnect from feeling, and push into ideas of how we should look in a pose. Which is why injury is now so common in yoga. All the static alignment in the world doesn’t protect us once we have to move. If we move poorly, we won’t ever see our potential, and we’re going to get hurt.

Let’s look at chair pose as an example. Here, squeezing our knees together in a chair pose as we twist from side to side won’t keep anyone safe.

If your immobilize yourself and then try to move, one part of you is now in conflict with your other parts.  You have gone to war with yourself!  Aggravation and injury happens here.

Of course if a convenient crane is available to lift you out of this tension-inducing movement and then drop you in a pool, you’d be safe. But we need to learn a better way to move, so we’re not inducing tension in our knees, and then carrying this tension into our subsequent movement. It’s this movement under tension that injures and inhibits us.

Let’s try a different way. As a start, keep your feet hip-width or even a little wider apart – a nice, natural, stable base. No squeezing or tensing is needed; instead, stay movable whenever you try to move. On each inhale, allow your body to be gently lifted out of the pose. On each exhale, move gently in – whether it’s sinking a bit into your chair, or moving into a twist. Then lift again on your inhale, to a less compressed position. Using this approach, your knees – and all of you – will go where it’s needed to go, to keep you moving in the most efficient and effective way possible. This is the Movement Principle of “Open Door, Close Door.”

When you’re moving in this way, you learn to be in alignment with yourself, every part moving in harmony with every other part. There’s no longer a need to think your way into your body, to control or immobilize one part, while worrying about where the other parts go.

You get out of your own way through this practice.  You also discover how much more capable you are when you connect with and follow your nature.  This is something valuable to learn.



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About Strala Yoga Training

Strala combines the movement and healing wisdom of tai chi with the form vocabularies of yoga, tai chi, qigong, and Traditional Chinese and Japanese Medicine, to help people release stress, move easily through challenge, and live radiantly inspiring lives.

It begins with a mindset, that says our best way to get where we’re going is to feel good along the way. It also works miracles for whole health, helping us to find ease in our bodies and minds, and create the right conditions both for healing and optimal performance.

In our Strala Training Courses, you learn to shape your destiny on every level that counts, from your psychology, chemistry and neurology, to your chromosomes and even gene expression. The unique set of skills you develop – for connecting with yourself and others, unblocking your energy, healing what needs healing and accomplishing challenge with ease – uncovers your ability to create the life you want, and be an inspiring leader to the people around you.

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1 Comment

  1. Yoga Poses for Two

    Thanks so much. Not many people know much how to make yoga alignment, so thank you.