This statement, from Ashtanga’s greatest guru of the century, reveals an integral connection between our mind and body. For example, why a happy memory may make you smile. In yoga, we become more aware of the connection between mind and body, and all the chain reactions playing out, as a result.
With heightened consciousness, there is some mastery found in controlling stress or anger responses in our daily life. Through heightened consciousness, the fluctuations of sensory perceptions get minimized, and we find more balance. Asana alignment with Ashtanga yoga is crucial in bringing balance to all of the various waves of energy and emotion within the body.
Ashtanga: The Eightfold System of Yoga
Traced back to its origin, Ashtanga is a system of eight conjoined elements practiced to reach spiritual excellence. Asana (physical exercise), dhyana (meditation), pranayama (breathing discipline), are all areas that we practice commonly in yoga today.
Ashtanga is considered a vigorous yoga style, utilizing postures challengingly with intense breath-to-body coordination. In Ashtanga, we link breath to movement in a vinyasa-style flow. The style provides fluidity throughout an entire sequence, at a rather fast pace, with the breath functioning as an anchor.
Comparatively, Hatha yoga is meticulous, forceful, slow, and contemplative in its movements. Ashtanga needs to be dynamic and featuring a seamless transition from one posture to another, without disrupting the rhythm of breath. Made famous for its challenging quality and highly structured learning method, Ashtanga yoga is meant for serious practitioners.
The quality of experience in Ashtanga practice also acutely depends on the proper body alignment. In Ashtanga, the entire body is moving in tandem with different parts of its whole.
But why is alignment so important in Ashtanga? Below we explore some of the reasons for proper alignment in Ashtanga.
Caution Against Injury
When you’re not careful, especially with alignment, it is possible for yoga to cause injury. Especially in areas that are commonly more prone like the shoulders, elbows, wrists, neck, lower back, hamstrings, and knees. It’s important to be cautious of your wrists when doing any kind of handstands, arm balances, or inversions. If the alignment of your shoulders to your wrists is wobbly, you risk a lingering irritation or injury. Similarly, the lower back becomes a soft spot for injury as it’s quick to fall out of alignment of the hips to shoulders.
It is advised to find your alignments right in specific Ashtanga poses before entering its dynamic ‘flow’ sequences.
Maximizes the Scope of Benefits
Alignment is crucial in Ashtanga, whether you are practicing just for the joy of it or targeting specific benefits. If you are doing downward dog to pump more oxygenated blood to the heart, you need to align your hips above the heart for the pressure to aid in maximized blood flow.
Physical Alignments Make Mental Alignments Right
In yoga, the body and mind are not separate; but rather, an extension of one another. Just as the physical body is the sum of its parts which need to function in tandem with one another, the mind is of many layers and full of mutually-countering thoughts and energies.
When you are aligning your heart over your hips properly, you also balance energies of the heart and muladhara (root) chakra that reside in the pelvic area. This, in turn, will impact the balance of your mind relating with the two chakras.
Relates Intrinsically with One’s Ayurvedic Constitution
Vata, Pitta, and Kapha form the tri-doshic constitution of our bodies that can determine many innate characteristics of an individual. Alignment, representing balance within many forms and structures, doesn’t fail to address the balance of the doshas.
One way to prevent unbalance of any particular dosha is to be more attentive to your asana alignments. Asanas without alignment could mean a compromise in the balancing of the tri-dosha structure. To pacify imbalance, it’s important to perform asanas that hit the right spots, and through properly aligned poses.
Stressing On Your Asana Alignments Will Make You a Good Teacher
Lastly, if you decide to be an Ashtangi for life, teaching could be a really good idea to keep evolving and that’s when you would need the knowledge of correct posture alignments the most.
Personal practice is the best way to development your asana alignment, and also grow your students practice.