Basic Body Alignment for a Yoga Practice

For those interested in starting a yoga practice and who have no other option but to do it at home, watching online videos, please be mindful of the importance of proper alignment in your practice.* I was practicing at a gym under the watch of yoga instructors, and I still managed to mess up my lower back, because my power yoga teachers were not too focused on correct alignment. At the beginning of your practice and a few times throughout, make sure you feel your body, and assess your alignment. Once yoga becomes a regular part of your routine, your awareness of your posture and alignment will grow.

When you assess your body alignment, you always do it from the ground up.

Your joints are always aligned: knees over ankles, hips over knees, shoulders over hips.

STANDING POSES

Tadasana

Mountain Pose | Tadasana

  • Your feet are either together, big toe mounds touching, heels slightly apart, OR are hips’ width apart, toes pointing forward, outer edges of your feet parallel to each other. The toes are spread, and you are grounding through all four corners of your feet (the big toe mounds, the pinky toe mounds, the inner and outer edges of the heels), evenly distributing your weight onto the whole foot, rather than leaning back on the heels, or forward on the balls of the feet, as is most common.
  • Your shins are pressing into one another, an isometric pull, rather than a noticeable physical action.
  • Your legs are straight, thighs are active, knee caps pointing forward and moving up. The thigh muscles are rotating towards the center of the body and pushing back – imagine (or if you have one handy use) a block in-between your thighs, imagine pressing your thighs into the block trying to push it back.
  • Your hips are square, the tops of the hip bones at the same level pointing forward. In case of any physical abnormalities (e.g. difference in legs lengths), move your pelvis left and right until you feel an even distribution of weight onto your feet.
  • Reach your tailbone towards your heels, not too much, you don’t want to disturb the alignment you achieved in the legs and feet.
  • Tighten your lower abdominal muscles.
  • Lengthen your spine, your side body, your whole upper torso.
  • Your shoulders are open, shoulder blades down your back and pressing into one another, shoulder tops away from the ears.
  • Arms are by your side, active, palms facing forward, middle fingers reaching towards the Earth. You will notice that this help with your shoulder outward rotation.
  • While keeping the bottom ribs in, your thoracic cavity expands, opening the chest and across the collar bones.
  • Your neck is long.
  • Your gaze is fixed on an object at eye level, preferably non-moving, or you may close your eyes.
  • You reach through the crown of the head, you could actually feel as you grow an inch taller.

WARRIOR AND TRIANGLE POSES 

Warrior II

Warrior II | Virabhadrasana II

  • Your front bent knee NEVER moves past the ankle, preferably it sits right above the ankle, knee cap facing forward in line with your second toe.
  • In Triangle, keep a micro bend in your front knee to make sure you don’t hyperextend it.
  • Your tailbone ALWAYS reaches towards the Earth to protect your lower back.
  • As much as possible, maintain an even distribution of weight between front and back feet (push through the outer edge and heel of back foot). Both legs are working.

CHAIR POSE

  • Your knees will come slightly forward, however you should still be able to see your toes when gazing down.
  • Your tailbone is slightly tucked to prevent you from sinking into your lower back.

SUPINE POSES

  • Same points of alignment apply as in Standing Poses.
  • The feet will be flexed, as you are pushing through the heels and flexing your toes towards you, especially the pinky toe!

In any poses that cause a stretch around and put strain on the knee (think Pigeon Pose, Thread the Eye of the Needle), make sure to flex your foot to protect the knee.

“You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from the scratch once again.” | Bikram Choudhury |

So go ahead, roll out your mat and take your first step. Let me know how it went and whether any of my alignment cues do not make sense. Be challenged. Be healed.

*In this post I offer basic alignment instructions. There are so many more subtleties of the body that you will become aware of and learn to control with practice.

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