Last week in my practice, I watched myself in a mirror. Some conflicting thoughts about using a mirror might be going through your head, for example: “You’re so vain, you prob’ly think this song is about you…” or “it distracts from the work you are doing internally in your yoga practice, like checking to see if your bra tag is sticking out, or your hair looks cute”. Admittedly, I can be a giant cheeseball in the mirror, smiling and checking my facial expressions (especially in difficult poses, as they are quite amusing) but I use the mirror for my personal alignment. When I first started practicing vinyasa style of yoga, I had no idea what I was doing (vinyasa means flowing from pose to pose in yoga, usually at a quicker pace, while using breath as a guide -inhale to one pose, exhale to another) . I lasted for years without an injury, flopping once a week through a yoga session, which I deemed a workout. As I deepened my practice, however, things in my body had newly found creaks. As a result, alignment was one of the main reasons I stepped into Yoga Teacher Training. My teacher, gratefully, was an Iyengar-trained instructor. This remains a relief to me, as I now consider alignment and safety to be one of the most important aspects of frequent yoga practice.I also no longer flop haphazardly through a yoga session, like a fish out of water, whixh was never cute.
In Virabhadrasana I, instructors, including myself, ask students to square hips toward the front of the room. While teaching last week, I realized this direction is not entirely helpful as it leaves students with a sense that one must turn hips parallel with the front of the room, which is basically impossible in this pose. Aligning both hip points TOWARD the front of the room is a more accurate description, and leads students towards making the correct adjustments. It also assists students with not feeling inferior nor like a broken hip is the way to go in this pose, in order to attain proper alignment.
As I continue in my study of yoga asana, I realize, also, that alignment in a pose is truly dependent as Cindy Dollar says, “on what you want out of the pose.”
Cindy taught us to check alignment starting from the base of the pose up. In Warrior I, the front toes are turned toward the front of the room, 90 degrees from the body while the back foot is turned out slightly, from 25-45 degrees. The stance is different than in Warrior II. In Warrior I, the the heels are aligned. As you move up the leg, muscles are holding the pose in a lifted manner. Not sinking into pose. The front leg is bent at a 90 degree angle to the mat (if strength and flexibility permit) with the knee aligned over the ankle. If you glance down, you should be able to see the big toe of the front foot peeking out beside the knee. The front thigh is externally rotating, while the back leg is internally rotated. The irony here is that you are pressing into the feet at the same time you are lifting the knees and flexing the thigh muscles. It is somewhat of an equal and opposite action in the legs. All of the while, lifting your ribcage up, lengthening your arms up, palms towards each other. Each pose in yoga should create space. If there is crunching or tension, come out of the pose, check your alignment (in a mirror, perhaps….”you’re so vain….”) and move into a pose that allows you to create space while strengthening your legs. Warrior I strengthens both legs, the shoulders arms and back. If you feel stable and strong in the pose, you can look up toward your palms, pressing the palms together and bending back. This opens the chest and shoulders when you add this slight backbend.
I continue to work with finding the proper alignment in a pose. Tonight, teaching Warrrior I, I recognize that I hurried through the posture, and did not give alignment cues, but only did the asana as part of Surya Namaskar B. On Tuesday, at the Asthanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, California, my instructor told me that my down dog is very Iyengar-trained. She assisted me in a more Asthangi version and it actually felt better for my shoulders. I had worked very hard to get my alignment ‘correct’ in down dog only to learn yesterday that it is not where I needed to be.
Yet, again, is it correct for what I want out of the pose?
I will continue to practice, as Guruji Patthabi Jois said, “Yoga is 90% practice and 10% theory.” So just show up, practice and your body will do the rest.