What is alignment? Why is it important?
I’ve heard people say, “I just want to do my yoga and I don’t care about alignment.”
Today I’d like to discuss with you the many benefits of striving for this perfection in your body to enhance your quality of life.
Throughout this discussion I’m reminded of my recent trip to Vienna, Austria.
In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Vienna as the world's most livable city. Vienna is known for its quality of life.
Evidence has been found of continuous habitation since 500 BC, when the site of Vienna on the Danube River was settled by the Celts. Some claim that the name comes from the name Vindobona probably meaning "white base/land." This bright base of land is the foundation of one of the most prosperous cities in the world (according to UN-Habitat in 2012-13) and a model for city planning today.
In 1440, Vienna became the resident city of the Habsburg dynasty. It eventually grew to become capital of the Holy Roman Empire (1483–1806) and a cultural center for arts, science, music and fine cuisine. Today, companies in Vienna have extensive contacts and competences in business with Eastern Europe due to the city’s historical role as center of the Habsburg Empire.
The historic center of Vienna is rich in architectural assemblages, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstrasse (a large street that wraps around the city in a circle) lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks. Art and culture have had a long tradition in Vienna, including theater, opera, classical music and fine arts.
How does this relate to yoga?
“Yoga is like music. The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul creates the symphony of life.” B.K.S. Iyengar
The physical practice of yoga, or postures (poses), is the third petal (limb) out of 8, called asana.
“The physical body is the child of the soul. You must nourish and train that child. Your body is the means by which we embark on the inward journey toward the core. It is while practicing yoga asanas that you learn the art of adjustment. Focus on keeping your spine straight. It is the job of the spine to keep the brain alert. Do not stop trying just because perfection eludes you.
In asana practice, we should have the impression that we are working on the outer to get closer to the inner reality of our existence. We work from the periphery to the core. Physical health is not a commodity to be bargained for," writes B.K.S. Iyengar. "Nor can it be swallowed in the form of drugs and pills — it has to be earned through sweat. It is something that we must build up.”
Asanas (poses) maintain the strength and health of the body, without which little progress can be made. Asanas keep the body in harmony with nature. An asana must be righteous and virtuous. By righteous I mean that it must be true. You must not cheat or pretend. You must fill every inch of your body with the asana from your chest and arms and legs to the tips of your fingers and toes so that the asana radiates from the core of your body and fills the entire diameter and circumference of your limbs. You must feel your intelligence, your awareness, and your consciousness in every inch of your body. (Light on Life, Iyengar) .”
Working on our alignment is like sculpting in which a piece of stone is constantly shaped and refined; but here the sculpture, the sculptor, and the act of sculpting is one and the same – our own selves. Moreover, the sculpture is not a static entity, but a dynamic one that changes over time; it tends to deteriorate if we don’t take a good care of it.
The Asana practice of yoga has 5 Major Alignment Principles:
Like the marble and granite foundations of many Viennese buildings, the foundation in yoga is the body part that is carrying your weight (touching the earth), so that it is evenly distributed, and one part of the body is not strained (to prevent injuries).
Alignment is the study of relationship. How everything is connected to everything else. Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together. According to B.K.S. Iyengar, alignment and attitude are connected. Through conscious re-alignment we can choose more life-enhancing ways of being in the world. Similar to the way that the Viennese use their contacts and connections in business, music, art, dancing, and nature to enjoy a well-rounded life.
“It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.
When we are able to bring our body into alignment and harmony, the fragmentation disappears, integration is achieved, and unity is established. Physical, energetic, natural, mental and intellectual, and blissful aspects of our body need to connect.
All games are meaningless if you do not know the rules. Yoga says you are playing the game with the body and self. By playing you can learn the rules (alignment principles) and if you observe them, you have a far better chance of success in life as well as of gaining illumination and freedom.
If you too live and practice yoga in the right way and with the right attitude, far greater benefits and more radical changes will take place than mere physical flexibility” (Light on Life, Iyengar).