I was taught to spread my toes by Katrina Repka. To engage my thighs, lifting into the outer edges of my feet and slightly internally rotating by Elena Brower. To use my core during asana by Rod Stryker. And how to access my shoulders, ribs and neck for optimum breath by Doug Keller. Thankfully, not all in the same week. Over a matter of years, an alignment developed in my body, tried and tested over practice after practice, that worked.
I know it worked because it feels good, it feels better than it used to. It became easier to breathe, and my breath naturally lengthened and deepened. I became calmer until, generally speaking, calmness became my natural state. My body works better, my digestion is smoother, my skin is happier (read: softer, smoother and less reactive) and my joints are ease-full.
But it wasn’t until I came across the work of Katy Bowman that I really understood why. In my experience, the yoga community of teachers has had a rocky road with alignment in the past few years. It comes and goes like a fashion, and is attributed to certain schools (Iyengar) and not others (vinyasa flow). When learning Anatomy we most often focus on the bones, joints and muscles. We talk about them as levers and pulleys.
But the body is so much more, you are so so so much more than levers and pulleys. The miracles taking place under your skin do no justice to ideas of needing longer hamstrings or to lose a few pounds. Think for a moment of your body as trillions of cells, each needing food, oxygen and the freedom to process and release waste. Trillions of cells for whom your alignment means creating the conditions for your cells to function optimally.
From this perspective, the way in which we stack ourselves from the feet, or the ground up, affects not only the look and shape of the pose. It also affects the health of our cells, which grows into the health of our tissues and organs, and the capacity they have to do what they must.
Alignment is about seeking good balance in your joints, in your weight. It is about creating, or supporting, pathways of flow for your juices. Know your own alignment cues, its a step closer to knowing yourself.