Quite simply, Asana practice is defined by alignment. Alignment is what makes one posture different from another. It is the rotation in the hip that separates Warrior 3 from Balancing Half Moon. It is the bent knee that separates a High Lunge from a Low Lunge. It is the straight arms that separate Up Dog from Cobra. Alignment is simply the position in which we put our bodies. We are always aligned in one way or another. From there it is just a matter of degree: how much attention we pay to the integrity and proper use of our bodies' structures, or how little.
It is understandable and justifiable to see the postures in broad strokes and shapes; to think that as long as we put the big pieces in place we are doing the postures. To a certain extent that is true. But that approach neglects a deep and profound well of strength, flexibility, balance, resilience, patience, compassion, intelligence, focus and calm that awaits us when we explore our bodies and the body-mind connection with more curiosity, depth and attention to detail.
The Devil's In the Details
Our bodies are tremendous creations, complex and multi-faceted. Which means that it is easy to become overwhelmed by the details and minutiae, especially if we aren't anatomy or bio-mechanics experts. This is true of teachers as well as students.
When we feel overwhelmed by the sheer possibilities for our body's alignment, it is normal for us to retreat from it. But, even though alignment can be detailed, it shouldn't be overwhelming. In fact, it should be quite simple.
I encourage you not to retreat from detailed alignment in your yoga posture practice. Just simplify. When I am frustrated by a posture, I go back to the beginning and find its essence. What is the One thing this posture is trying to achieve? Is it a bend in the spine? Is it a stretch of the hamstrings? Is it strength in the shoulders?
Once you identify the most important element in the posture, practice that posture with your mind completely focused on that element. Don't think about anything else. Do that one thing with 100% intention and try to do it perfectly, no matter how good or bad it looks from the outside.
After awhile of practicing with complete commitment to the primary intention of the posture, the rest of the posture slowly begins to reveal itself. The body starts to unfold naturally, and you will end up solidly in a posture that you now know intimately and love deeply. And one that is properly aligned.
Stay Focused On the Center
There is always the availability of countless details about the alignment of the edges of the postures. Consider them for a moment or two, then return your focus to the core intention of the posture. As my teacher Tony Sanchez said during a breathing exercise, "It is a breathing exercise. Focus on your lungs, not your legs."
This will keep your mind focused and your postures true. It will bring greater detail and energy to your practice.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga