“Out of intent comes a posture that expresses itself and brings change and enlightenment to the practitioner. I always teach from alignment, but with room for the individual to express themselves through their practice”
My next series of articles will follow up from an earlier one on the general principles of alignment in yoga asanas. I will use the Ashtanga primary series as my examples, to support the postures I use on my teacher training courses. My first article will start with Padangusthasana and Padahastasana.
These articles will focus on the general lines of alignment within each posture, and how they go to build a complete picture. Leaving out some bits or modifying postures without sufficient knowledge of why will have a profound effect. I so often come across examples of the postures being taught without a basic understanding of why they are in the sequence and in relation to the postures around them. Leaving out vital parts or basic misalignment in say the standing postures will have a dramatically negative effect on the outcome.
So let’s start with Padangusthasana, hand to big toe posture. From Samasihiti inhale and hop the legs to hip distance apart and place the hands on the waist, with the exhale bend forward from the hips and take hold of the big toes. With the next inhale look up and lengthen the back, with the exhale take the sternum down towards the top of the feet. Although these points of alignment are important its more to do with the way we practice as much as the perfecting of a posture. I see lots of students who can replicate a posture, but there is something lacking, I also see interpretations of asanas that look lifeless. So how do we bring a posture to life, it’s the way we engage with the posture, it is about integrity and honesty and not just the way it looks in a photograph.
Looking at Padangusthasana again and how to practice the posture with integrity starts with our feet and hands. I will mention here how essential it is to look beyond our three usual bandhas of (Mula, Uḍḍīyana and Jalandhara) and introduce three more, Pada bandha (feet) Hast bandha (hand) and Nabhi bandha (four fingers below the navel) Not only this as we begin to look deeper there are a couple of more bandhas to introduce, but that’s not for now.
If we take the feet first and truly engage them with the floor, focusing on the heels and pads while relaxing the toes we bring the feet to life. Now take the awareness to the arches of the feet and become aware of a lift that creates an upward energy, while we also become aware of an equal and opposite downward force created by the contact between the feet and the floor. Now notice that upward energy as it runs up the inner thighs, and if we practice we will become aware of a connection with a space four fingers below the navel (Nabhi bandha) Now take this another stage further, actually draw up from the shins through the knees and thighs, while we push the feet into the floor and we create a dynamic energy within the posture. Now it’s time to look at the rest of the posture, taking the big toes with the first two fingers and making a circuit with the thumbs, and with the elbows wide will create a circuit creating a flow of energy that is contained within the body.
Taking the alignment of the posture further the hips will be directly over the heels. The shoulder blades will be drawn back to the hips, while attempting to slide the back of the pelvis up towards the shoulder blades. Essentially we are attempting to keep the back straight, creating the flexion from the hips. The action of lifting up the back of the pelvis will start to draw the pelvis too neutral. With the pelvis in neutral the spine will keep to its natural curves, which stops any flexion in the spine. This action keeps any forward bending in the hips, where its meant to be. Keeping the hips over the heels ensures the back of the legs get stretched. All this is essential otherwise we make too many compromises and nothing changes, if you have been practicing asana for a long time and nothing has changed then this is why. I see a lot of students who stick with what they know, it appears safe but it is fear of change that holds them back. If we truly practice our asanas, then the result will be change.
Alignment is important but more so is intent. Out of intent comes a posture that expresses itself and brings change and enlightenment to the practitioner. I always teach from alignment, but with room for the individual to express themselves through their practice. And what I see never changes, even though there will be individual modifications that sense of alignment always looks the same. The posture and therefore the practice will have a vitality to it, it will come alive. The lines of the posture will always look the same, and that will come from a dedicated asana practice and after many years of practice. It won’t happen overnight, and nor is it meant to, what would be the point.