Ten years ago I was in my second decade of teaching alignment informed yoga classes heavily influenced by my years of practicing with teachers who had studied with BKS Iyengar.
So when a student described a workshop she had attended – a workshop about something called ‘yin yoga’ where poses were held for minutes at a time and any thought of alignment was tossed out the window – I’ll admit to feeling annoyed. No alignment cues? Impossible! Unsafe! Ridiculous! But I was also intrigued and when the opportunity presented itself I hauled my yin-curious self to the nearest Paul Grilley workshop.
Midway through the first day, from the back of the room I called out, “But what about alignment?” He looked at me, smiled, and then gazed out across his rapt audience. It was the yoga equivalent to Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and Grilley’s first beatitude might as well have been: ‘Blessed are those who study yin and forgo alignment, for they shall learn that alignment is about aesthetics’.
The moment blew my little yoga brain into pieces and was the catalyst that changed forever how I teach.
Until that moment I had never considered the obvious. That although we are all made up of the same components – bones, muscle, connective tissue and so on – those components will differ in length, width, tensile strength, yield strength, efficiency and power depending on the gene pool in which we swim and our lifestyle. We’re sort of like cars, I guess. A Maserati does not drive like a Mini Cooper. A car that has its oil changed and tires checked does not drive like a car that hasn’t seen the inside of a garage for fifty thousand miles.
In other words, we are all different.
In other words, alignment is about aesthetics. Kinda. Some alignment cues are about safety, too, and that’s something we shouldn’t forget.
A decade ago I returned home from that weekend workshop questioning if everything I’d ever believed about asana was wrong. The answer, of course, was ‘no’, but maybe it was time to reevaluate my attachment to the philosophy around alignment I’d studied for so long. I had never considered that there might be another way to move through an asana practice. To move through space. For so many years on my yoga journey there was only one ‘right’ way to practice.
But that’s not true.
Every beautiful human moving through a series of yoga postures is having an experience unique to their body, their mind set, their belief system.
As teachers, we should remember that.