Good alignment is key for practicing yoga safely and effectively. It enables you to receive the maximum benefit from each pose, whilst minimising the risk of injury. But in modern yoga the importance of alignment is often overlooked and without intervention, it can cause serious long-term impacts. Even experienced yogis that have practiced for years can often suffer injuries from incorrect alignment.
So, in this article, we go back to basics and look at the importance of alignment and how it can enhance your yoga practice.
What is alignment?
Pretty much any form of exercise requires some form of alignment, whether it be walking, running, cycling, or swimming. It simply refers to the optimal way to position or move your body to maximise the benefits of the exercise you're doing.
Yoga is no different, except the correct alignment is different for each posture. However, this doesn't mean every posture has to be perfect. Alignment is not about forcing your body into a position it isn't comfortable with. In fact, it's actually the opposite.
Good alignment involves listening to your body and doing what feels right. For example, when practicing downward dog, your back should be flat and your spine lengthened. Individuals with more flexible hamstrings may be able to reach their heels to the floor.
However, if your hamstrings are tight then trying to force your heels down will cause your spine to curve and you won't gain the full benefit from the pose. Instead, keep a slight bend in your knees and your heels lifted. You should still feel a stretch in your hamstrings but your back should remain flat.
Why is alignment important?
Practicing with incorrect alignment can put a strain on your joints and ligaments. And whilst it may not cause you any pain or discomfort straight away, injuries can often develop further down the line. By making sure your alignment is correct, you decrease the amount of stress placed on the ligaments and reduce the risk of injury.
Correct alignment also allows you to use your strength more efficiently, helping to increase your range of movement. In turn, this will help you get deeper into poses and make those trickier postures easier to master.
A key part of alignment is ensuring your hands and feet are in the right place. But often, it can be tricky to tell from just a quick glance down. That's where CorkYogis alignment mats come in handy, as the clear engraved lines on the mat's surface make it easy to position your body correctly. There are currently two options you can choose from: the CorkYogis Classic with Alignment Lines and the CorkYogis Travel Mat.
A mat with good grip is also essential. Practicing more intense postures or faster flows will soon have you working up a sweat and once you start to drip moisture on your mat, things can get very slippery.
This not only makes it harder to find the correct alignment but can also result in injuries too. However, with CorkYogis alignment mat you don't need to worry about slipping as all our mats are made from cork, which contains natural gripping properties. Unlike plastic or PVC, it's grip actually increases as you sweat, so you can focus your attention on your alignment, without fear of slipping.
How to use an alignment mat
Alignment mats can be useful for a huge range of poses. Let's take Warrior I as an example.
To practice this posture correctly, your front leg should be at a 90-degree angle with your thigh running parallel to the mat. Your front heel should be in line with the back heel, with the back foot twisted outwards at a 45-degree angle.
With an alignment mat, the centre line makes it easy to check your heel alignment, whilst the 45-degree angle marks mean you can be sure your back toes are pointing in the right direction.
An alignment mat can even help with postures as simple as Downward Dog. Ensuring the centre line is equally spaced between your hands and feet helps keep your torso straight and allows for more even weight distribution.
Additional tips for good alignment
An alignment mat will certainly help to improve your alignment in certain poses. But here are few extra tips to help improve your alignment during your practice.
1. Start with your base
It's important to get the base of a posture right before you attempt to adjust the rest of your body. For example, in a standing posture such as mountain pose your feet should be flat and your weight should be evenly distributed through the sole of each foot. Once you're happy with your feet, you can start thinking about what comes next i.e legs, knees, hips, torso, and so on.
2. Stack your joints
You'll often hear yoga teachers talk about stacking the joints. For example, in plank pose your heels should be stacked over your toes, and your elbows and shoulders stacked over your wrists. Doing this will not only help you feel more secure in each pose but will also help protect against injuries. If bones are twisted into positions without the support of joints, it can damage your ligaments and tendons.
3. Stabilise your core
Engaging your core effectively during your yoga practice will help to protect your spine and strengthen your abdominals. So, for standing postures focus on lengthening your tailbone and pulling your belly button towards your spine. This will help provide a solid foundation as you move into more challenging postures.
4. Use yoga blocks
Often people are reluctant to use yoga blocks as they feel it's a sign of inadequacy, yet this couldn't be further from the truth. Blocks are used by yogis of all abilities and are great tools for providing length, support, and improving alignment.
For example, using a block to support your bottom hand in Triangle pose will enable you to stack your hips and open your chest more. It will also help open your hips and hamstrings, allowing you to experience the full benefit of the stretch. If you don't own any blocks yet, then check out CorkYogis eco-friendly, cork yoga blocks.
5. Find a good yoga teacher
Practicing outside of class is important, but without anyone there to correct you, it's easy to develop bad habits. Finding a good teacher that can identify any alignment issues will ensure you're practicing safely and getting maximum gain from each pose.
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