Recently, the yoga community at large has taken up a more critical look at what the concept of alignment actually means in the context of yoga asana. This is a great conversation to have. So many of us have been practicing and teaching for decades now and are confronted daily by the ways that popular rules of alignment contradict one another and are often causing more problems than they solve.
Many of the problems we see in joints, muscles, and ligaments derive from our own mistaken assuredness that we have the answers for how we (and our students) should move. Most of our instructions have been based on the musculoskeletal system. We have precise rules, many contradicting one another, and still we have a lot of injuries, and witness a lot of wear and tear on joints of the longest time practitioners. Perhaps we have accepted a false premise. Let’s look at the term and its connotations:
align |əˈlīn| verb1 [with object]
- place or arrange (things) in a straight line
- put (things) into correct or appropriate relative positions
- [no object] lie in a straight line, or in correct relative positions
alignment |əˈlīnmənt| noun1
- arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative position
- the act of aligning parts of a machine:oil changes, lube jobs, and wheel alignments.
Alignment as We Know It Doesn’t Work
How we think about things matters. The term alignment itself conjures up straight lines, correct angles, mechanical movement, and positional concerns. Both align and alignment clearly connote these qualities. Even if you know better, you will be affected by your ingrained understanding of the words. The idea of “straight lines”, “align [with object]”, and even “appropriate relative position”, miss the mark for considering what is healthy human support for movement.