The power of – letting go of – alignment
In the physical practice of asana we work with the alignment of the body. Each asana has its own detailed alignment principles, our body has its own detailed anatomical principles and lets not even get started on the mind. I believe awareness of alignment is crucial to a sustainable practice. It can deepen and enrich your practice and strengthen your connection to your body-mind. And I also believe it can make you lose the awareness and presence in your practice completely. The same tool can produce the exact opposite effect.
Why alignment matters
One of the main purposes of alignment is ensuring the postures are done in a safe way that minimizes the risk for injury. Most of the detailed information about an asana is meant to describe safe movements within the body whilst performing asana’s. Put in a different way, the asana alignment gives you a picture of the most favorable way to move your body, thus supporting the natural and healthy abilities of your body. This means that alignment within a certain asana actually offers us a very detailed picture of how we carry, move and treat our own body.
We all have a different body, live different lives and develop very different patterns of movement throughout our lives. Especially when we have lost connection to our body for quite some time, it is these patterns that actually control our position and movement. Often, we are un-aware of these patterns, un-aware of the pain they cause us and the way they neglect or over-emphasize certain parts of our body. Using alignment in asana gives you an incredibly clear mirror to show you exactly where the imbalances lie, what parts need attention, what needs strengthening and what needs letting go of. Alignment gives you a way to regain control over your patterning, instead of letting your patterning control you. It gets you back into the amazing intelligence of your body-mind and will help you create stability and self-awareness.
Another main purpose of alignment is directing the flow of energy (prana, chi, life energy etc.) throughout and within the entire body. Alignment get’s things flowing, that’s just physics. If you want water to flow through a pipe, you don’t want that pipe to be blocked either, even the smallest bent affects the way the water flows through. Good alignment opens up what needs to be opened, activates what needs to be active, and relaxes whatever needs to chill out. And it does that in such an intelligent and smart way, so that blood, breath, emotions, and especially life energy to find back their free flow.
Having an understanding of alignment deepens the practice. It offers a great point of focus to still the mind by bringing the awareness straight back to the body. Venturing the realm of alignment is like a quest for a point of stillness within the body as well as within the mind. The quest being just as important as that point of stillness, because it tells you so much about yourself. So, rather than offering you an end-point to your asana, alignment actually offers you a mirror, a pathway to discover your body as well as your inner world. Where lies your strength? Your softness? What is your perception of your body and your mind? What is your approach to the new and unknown? Awareness of alignment offers you a chance to ‘re-align’ patterns of thought as well as movement along the way.
Where alignment stops
Awareness of alignment is a tool. A tool that has the capability of breaking what we use it for when taken beyond its purposes.
When the focus on physical alignment becomes too strong, we lose exactly what asana and alignment can offer us: the connection to what, who and where we are now, in bodies as well as our minds. Instead of paying attention to the present sensations within, we fill the mind once again with more and more thoughts or even rules we have to oblige to and yet again lose the connection to our body-mind. Instead of offering us a pathway to feel and experience the present, the mind will be overworking to ‘get it all right’, the body will be ignored and control of the breath is lost. This just takes you further away from that presence of mind.
When the focus on alignment becomes too strong we sometimes forget that alignment doesn’t stand on its own. It works together with the flow of breath and the awareness the mind and it’s the combination of those that can offer us steadiness and ease in what we do.
Alignment can offer us a pathway to discover ourselves, but when taken as and end-goal, danger is that we start clinging on to yet another idea of perfection. Yes, every asana has its own intrinsic detailed information on alignment, which is super useful because we are all humans. We all carry a body made of blood, flesh and bones and prana flows through each one of us. And at the same time there is no such thing as reaching that ‘perfect alignment’. Because, whose principles would they be based upon? Even though we are all alike, we all have different bodies, different genes, different forms of patterning and different content in our minds. Therefore, ‘perfect alignment’ means something different for each and every single one of us. And surprise: none of us actually has a better constitution than the other. The same asana will show most of us a very different picture about ourselves, even when the visual image is exactly the same; the idea of two people experiencing the same asana in exactly the same way, feel the same parts of their body or develop exactly the same set of thoughts in their mind, will be very hard to defend.
Worst case, chasing after a certain alignment and losing awareness because of it, is more likely to cause injury than to prevent it from happening. That doesn’t sound very sustainable, does it? When this is the case, alignment does no longer serve its purpose and its time to let go.
Using the tool
One of the beautiful definitions of the word ‘alignment’ is: correct relative positions, or: a position of agreement of alliance. Rather than being a perfect and finalized visual picture, alignment actually offers us a tool to get all parts of our being to work together to create harmony, a point of stillness, steadiness and ease. And as all parts of our being are continuously subject to change, the right alignment or position of agreements between these parts will change as well. So lets use this tool to deepen our practice, to get our body, our breath and our mind to work together. Lets use this tool as a framework for our bodies as well as our inner worlds. Lets use this tool as a pathway to develop a sense of stability, steadiness and ease as the practice develops. Lets use the tool with wisdom.
Keep practicing – Abyasa Yoga.