It’s possible that I spend more time talking about the actions of the scapula in triangle pose more than most teachers. And, taken to an extreme, alignment cues can be arcane and tedious. After all, if I asked you to name the single most important thing that yoga has taught you, you’re not going to tell me that it’s how to spread your metatarsals in triangle pose. Yet, precision, alignment, and subtlety are essential aspects of a sustainable and informed asana practice. I continuously remind my students that they can be as physically powerful in their practice as they want, so long as they maintain precision and mindfulness. Here’s why:
- Safety and Sustainability
Skillful alignment is not the only key to injury prevention—but, it’s a good start. Accurate alignment distributes the mechanical forces of postures and decreases the likelihood that individual parts of your body will break down. It also makes it easier for your various muscle groups to work together which provides you with greater strength and resilience. We don’t always take the long-view in our life, but choosing to be patient and deliberate in your practice will help you do more for much longer.
- Attention and Mindfulness
Being attentive and mindful can be challenging. These are skill sets that need to be cultivated. Bringing your awareness to the action of your body in postures—and in the transitions between postures—is a way of training your attention to be present. Bringing your attention to the actions and sensations of your body in each asana helps you practice being mindful.
- Efficiency and Efficacy
Yogis have always focused on economizing their prana and directing it skillfully. We’ve entered an era where people believe that all hard work pays equal dividends. In yoga, however, not all work is equally effective. Effort alone produces diminishing returns. In order for your postures to have the desired effect, your body needs to be stable and integrated.
- Discovery and Appreciation
There is an old hatha yoga saying that there’s “no liberation without practice,” and “there’s no practice without a body.” Instead of beating ourselves up about our body’s imbalances and challenges, yoga teaches us to celebrate the experience of embodiment despite its’ challenges. By focusing on alignment you discover parts of your body that were previously unknown to you. Simply put, you learn to use your body more skillfully and appreciate its’ intrinsic beauty and complexity.
- It’s easier than you think
The hallmark of a good educator is the ability to describe complex phenomenon in a simple, accessible way without diluting its essence. Alignment does not have to be tedious or fussy just because it involves many layers. In fact, decent alignment is really quite easy. It just involves paying attention to the sensations that are present and making small improvements over time. Like everything, refined alignment takes patience and practice.
Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.