Posture Alignment: Whose Job is it Anyway?
With so many emerging schools of thought on movement, at times it can be challenging to know what we should and should not do—especially in a practice like yoga that is known for pushing the envelope with our ranges of motion in many shapes and postures. Everyone wants to feel good in their bodies while having the strength and mobility to do the things they love. This is often the reason people show up to yoga in the first place. Can we simply follow the instructions of the teacher and know that we are getting a sustainable, functional practice? How do I know what correct alignment is? Does the practice really make me feel good long term?
Whether it is Yoga, weight lifting, Pilates, etc., we can sometimes get so caught up in the construct of the practice that we forget to pay attention to how it is feeling. Paying attention to what we are feeling inside of our own bodies is somewhat of a lost art, unless the alarm signal of pain is ringing. Yet sometimes even pain is unfelt for years. This lack of paying attention and inability to feel is what can take us away from a practice that truly serves us.
The teacher can be extremely knowledgeable about the body and the practice they are teaching, but they still have no way of knowing what is going on inside the practitioner’s body. They can, however, aim to help the student increase their interoceptive awareness or ability to pay attention to what they are feeling within.
No teacher, anatomist, or Physiotherapist can tell you what you are feeling inside your body. They can be skillful guides, but you are the only possible expert of what you feel.
Although anatomy can be intimidating for many, learning how the body moves and works is one of the best tools for awakening to your own experience and finding your best alignment. This goes for teachers and practitioners--consider learning about this body that you live in 24-7. It might just change your life. The learning is usually best if it involves intellectual knowledge alongside the investigation of your own felt sense. In other words, learn something—then feel it and filter it through your own experience. Seek out teachers and resources that help you understand body variability. The poses or actions that are difficult for you could be because 1) your strength and mobility aren’t there yet or 2) your body structure doesn’t move in that way. The more you understand your body, the better you can decipher between the two. This is SO incredibly important as it could save you from decades of movement that doesn’t work for and is degrading your body. There are ALWAYS options!
As a Yoga teacher, I am responsible for understanding the body and what I am asking my students to do so that I can give options and provide an investigative experience rather than apply blanket, general cues to everyone. As a Yoga practitioner, I can’t rely on the teacher to know what I am feeling. Nor can I depend on the teacher to know what is most effective in MY body. It takes my willingness to notice, feel, and discern how the pose is happening inside my body. Yoga alignment is a collaborative effort that is supported with an on-going curiosity, learning, and awareness of both student and teacher.
Author of Embodied Posture: Your Unique Body and Yoga