One of my fellow yoga teachers wisely says: “yoga is not about the shapes you make.”
That’s so true, and I’d add that yoga is very much about shaping who you are, or more accurately, revealing the shape of the real you.
No Such Thing As Wrong
You’ve probably read plenty of articles talking about how yoga is much more than asana practice…and it is, just as it is not about "acing" nor "assing" asana (as in making an ass of yourself in an asana).
I often tell students that they don’t have a "good" and a "bad" side, just a left and a right side or a right and left side -- no judgment. I tell them they don’t have "good" and "bad" postures, just asana that they find more or less challenging on any given day. Tomorrow may be different, and that’s ok.
And while there is such a thing as correct alignment, a posture is seldom "wrong" (only if the alignment is unsafe is it really wrong).
For example -- is Downward Dog only "right" if the heels are able to touch the floor? Is it "correct" if the heels touch the floor but there is no real attention to the breath?
We practice most postures along an alignment continuum -- once we get safely into a posture we can then grow and evolve within it, aligning a little more closely to the "proper" posture. For most of us, most yoga asanas remain works in progress -- and that’s kind of the whole point.
Indeed if you don’t think of your yoga practice as a work in progress, then what exactly are you practicing?
When You "Forget" Alignment You Can Align Yourself -- With Yourself
A yoga teacher will typically give a range of different alignment cues -- as a student you may not even hear some of them (perhaps because you’re internally-focused, which is great), while others will feel like they speak directly to you.
In any given class, some cues will be missed and others will really resonate. As a student I like to think it is my own internal guide that filters what I really need to hear. As a teacher I like to try to tune into what the class needs, so that at least some cues will resonate even if the rest are filtered out.
Sometimes the ego gets in the way and you can find yourself pushing to do a posture "properly" for the sake of external validation, even when a teacher may be gently urging you to hold a posture with integrity wherever you are at.
Balance postures are a good example of where the ego can take over. I’ve found that while the ego will never help you balance better, conscious breathing and focused awareness most certainly will.
As a teacher, the ego can also get in the way of allowing students the space to filter what they need. I try to remind myself that if students aren’t following my cues, it isn’t because they aren’t listening to what I’m guiding them to do, but tuning in to what they really need to do themselves.
The thing is, it is never about following each and every alignment cue like some sort of yoga robot. This rigid approach leaves no room for the kind of mind, body, and emotional awareness that will really help you align with exactly where you need to be -- in tune with yourself.
When You "Forget" Yourself You Can Align Yourself -- With the Universe
Postural alignment is much more of a process than an end-game, and the process that is most important is internal rather than external.
If you can just "be" in a posture rather than "doing" a posture, if you can align with the true self you find within a posture, then I reckon you can come close to really practicing yoga.
Because when you align with your true self you realize that you are in fact in alignment with the universe. Making shapes with your body may be fun, but alignment with the universe, well, that’s really the end game.
How do you tune in to what is within while practicing yoga? Do you listen to every alignment cue all the time? Share your experiences with the community in the comments below!