How Important is Alignment In Yoga?

Brad Korpalski
How Important is Alignment In Yoga?

This might border on yoga blasphemy, but I’ll pose the question nonetheless--how much does alignment in yoga asana matter?

Certainly, there are entire schools formed around alignment principles (Iyengar and Anusara I believe—to name a few) so it is clearly important to many. Yet, I can’t help but wonder: is over-emphasis on alignment actually out of line from the true deliverance of yoga?

Here is why I think we might be missing the point when we focus exclusively on alignment in asana postures.

On Our Unique Physical Compositions

When I look down at certain body parts in conjunction with the instruction being offered, (pull your left hip up and down in line with your left knee…move your right big toe to the centerline…place your chin around your left ankle while moving your right shoulder back to the inner left thigh of the person behind you) I think to myself—nope.

This body, this physical representation of the universal being, is designed in a particular way, and it ain’t designed for THAT. This isn’t a cop-out, just the cold hard facts of Brad.

My right ankle protrudes in a way that yours doesn’t. I have a bump on my left foot that you most certainly don’t have. My shoulders are a bit pointy and my hips angle slightly by 2 degrees.

All of this to say…our unique physical composition is exactly just that -- unique. Pretending that there is one right way to do something (especially something physical) feels absurd in this context. Not to mention, I’m nowhere close to the all-important ‘breathe when engaged’ in such alignment-based concentration.

On Performing Poses The ‘Right’ Way

I get that there’s an energetic quality to asana poses, and, I’ll call it, an approximation of intention for each of these poses, but to cross the T’s and dot the I’s of asana in a very specific way…is… quite revelatory, actually, of what we’re saying about the world.

Rather than utilize the practice of asana to harmonize our breath with our mind and body, to enter a state of complete self-awareness, singularly focused attention on alignment is a maintenance of the typical perfectionist self-dialogue that possibly inspired our desire to practice yoga in the first place. After all, when we’re struggling into “right alignment” what does our thought process look like?

Is Alignment For Avoidance Of Injury?

Is injury really likely if we don’t perform the poses the “right” way? Avoidance of injury is a commonly held validation for alignment focus. I don’t know. I feel injury is most likely when I am simply being inattentive to what’s happening right in front of me. If I’m focused, fully and truly present, injury is a very unlikely possibility.

Perhaps, and this question is a prying open of Pandora’s box—attention on alignment is a fool’s gold-- the ultimate distraction in yoga, THE thing that makes yoga more about exercise and less about self-inquiry.

Perhaps, alignment is so arbitrary to the true effect of yoga that we might as well spend an hour and a half jumping around the studio screaming at the tops of our lungs. After all—what are we in it for?

If pushed to state my own beliefs on this matter, I might say balance is in order. (Of course, I’m likely to say that for most things.) Maybe alignment needs attention, just attention reduced to the amount we might pay to the appendix of a favorite book or the person who bags our groceries.

What do you think? Is alignment necessary, and if so—what is it necessary for?