Simple alignment Q’s
Now that i got your attention, please read below for some great general alignment Q’s to use all the time, on or off the mat. (To be honest couldn’t find the right photo for this article, so this one will have to do for now, ha-ha!).
In a perfect world, all our activities would be such that it would produce perfect alignment, balance & harmony in the mind, body and soul. Since this is not the case in short, it us up to each and every one of us to consider “what we are doing”, “how we are doing it” and “where is it taking us?” In addition, it is also necessary to consider “how we got where we are today in the first place.” At some point in time, it is a good idea to ask our selves these questions with sincerity and honesty. Please remember and keep in mind, that this is not something that needs to be answered right away and or may ever completely understood, however, it is the waking of the curious “self” we are trying to probe here. So what better way to begin the process of self-exploration and understanding then through our physical structures that we all can identify with.
So to begin a more simplified understanding of how to create optimal alignment we must look at a few important points;
Lining up with the gravitational line OR Central Axis in the body and
2) Joint congruency.
Lining up with the gravitational line,” means aligning the long axis of bones with the lines of gravitational pull. This way the bones provide maximum support and the muscles don’t have to work so hard. We get a sense of ease and floating.
Joint congruency”means the joint is seated such that the pressure from movement is evenly distributed over the joined surfaces. This gives us the largest range of motion and keeps the joint from wearing unevenly, often causing arthritis and other degenerative joint problems.
Here are seven simple alignment principles or key points that are typically found in all postures on and off the matt. They are applied differently for different people, but we can all use them as guidelines to start the process. You will need to experience them physically to some degree in order to understand them.
We’ll begin in a neutral standing position to explore the principles. Each one builds on the previous, so keep them all-active to understand their relationship and to create the full synergistic affect.
The first principle is “Feet Active and Balanced or Rooted.” Typically our feet are weak and malformed from being confined to shoes. Also, most people tend to turn the toes out and roll their weight to the outer edge of the foot. This is due to tight external rotators and weak inner thighs. To balance and activate the feet, stand with the outer edges of your feet parallel to the long edges of your mat. Your heels will be slightly wider than your big toes. Lift and spread all ten toes, widen the foot bones apart. Press down with the base of the big toe, base of the pinky toes and inner and outer edges of the heels. These are the four corners of the feet. Now imagine your legs are big drinking straws and draw energy up from the earth through the soles of your feet as you press down through the four corners. This is how engaged you want your feet to be in all poses, whether they are in the air or on the earth. Strong feet and ankles ground us and protect our knees.
The second principle is “Micro-bend the knees.” One tendency is to press the knees back into hyper extension. This over-stretches the ligaments behind the knees, and from there starts a whole slew of problems with the bones above and below the knee joints. To balance away from this tendency, bend the knees very slightly so the weight is felt more evenly on the balanced feet. Embrace the knees by hugging in with muscle. Now hug the shins in to the mid line. Explore the feeling of sturdiness in the feet and lower legs.
The third principle is “Thigh Bones back and Apart.” Joint congruency in the hips is very important. Our tendency is to draw the top of our thighbones forward. This has a lot to do with tight external rotators along with a number of other issues. When we move the top of the thighbones back and apart, we seat the femur heads deeply into the hip sockets and widen the back of the pelvis creating space in the low back. To experience this, find the first two principles: feet active and balanced and micro-bend the knees. From there, lean forward slightly and stick your butt out behind you. The groins soften into the body. Firm the thigh muscles to keep the top of the thighbones back. Now to move the thighbones apart, imagine your heels are glued to the mat, and try to pull them away from each other. Feel that spiral of energy travel up the legs, widening the sits bones and upper thighbones.
The forth principle is: “Lengthen the tailbone.” The tailbone is the tiny tip of the sacrum, the triangular bone at the base of the spine. When we tuck forward, we tone and lift the low abdomen, which awakens our core and protects our low back. To experience this, apply the first three principles making sure your thigh muscles are consistently firm and the outward resistance of the heels is moving the thighbones apart. Now without letting the hips move forward at all, tuck the tailbone down between the wide sits bones. This will begin the lift or pull up of the low belly and take the shoulders right over the hips. Again, engage the thigh muscles to move the thighbones back, and then tuck the tailbone. You should begin to feel the integration of the hips and legs to the torso.
Our fifth principle is “Low ribs in or Keep the front ribs quiet & Side ribs long.” Many of us have the tendency to jut the low ribs forward causing an over contraction of the mid back and compression in the low back. When we use upper abdominals to take the low ribs in, we can begin to lengthen the side ribs away from the hips, which extend the spine and will keep energy moving up towards the heart. If the mid back tends toward rounding, skip the ‘low ribs in’ part and focus on ‘side ribs long’. Stand with feet active and balanced, micro-bend the knees, move the thighbones back and apart and tuck the tailbone. Now lift the arms overhead. Notice, how there’s a good chance the low front ribs tend to jut out? Draw them into the body and instead stretch up with the side ribs getting as long as you can in the side body. Another option would be to bring the arms out in front of you as opposed to taking them above your head to start off with. Lengthen the tailbone to anchor the hips then inhale to stretch the side ribs away from the rooting hips, legs and feet. Try to find this action of the side ribs stretching away from grounded hips with each inhale no matter what pose you are in.
Our sixth principle is called “Shoulder blades on the upper back.” This moves the head of the arm bones back and the heart up to support an optimally aligned shoulder girdle. Our tendency is to allow the shoulder blades to “wing” off the upper back, which will also produce rounding or slumped shoulders. This pulls the tendons out of groove creating pressure on nerves and arteries traveling through the shoulder girdle. It also weakens the rotator cuff and inviting injury. When we move with the shoulder blades on the upper back, we move in optimal alignment, protecting the joint and creating a stronger foundation. This is a lot easier said then done! To feel this, first find the five previous principles. Keep the low ribs tucked in and breath into your chest in all directions, remembering that the ribcage is like an open umbrella. Now, gently move the shoulders back and down. This will give you an idea of where the blades should technically sit, however it is a bit more involved then just this action. However its a great start in at least feeling where they should sit. Understand we all have some slight to moderate misalignment in our shoulders and blades and each one of us will more then likely need a slightly different remedy. This may be difficult at first, but eventually, it will feel good once there is a more balanced relationship between the front upper chest muscles and the upper blade muscles in general.
Our final principle is called “Skull Traction or Teeter-totter balance of the head.” This is the sensation of stretching the sides of the skull away from the base of the neck & resting the head on its axis with effortless ease. Sometimes we lift the chin without lengthening the neck first. This causes compression. Other times we look down too much, over stretching the back of the neck and compressing down on the throat. We also tend to carry the head forward stressing the muscles on top of the shoulders. Skull traction brings the head and neck into optimal alignment. To feel this, stand with feet alive and balanced, knees slightly bent, thighs firm, thighbones back and apart, anchor the tailbone. Draw the low ribs in then move the shoulders back and breath. Press down through the feet and stretch the sides of the skull up. Draw the top of the throat back then pull it up. Can you feel yourself getting longer? Again, these movements may feel forced or allusive at first but be patient and persistent. Your internal strength and awareness will wake up in layers from the outside to the inside.
Understanding and applying the seven optimal alignment principles in our yoga postures and our daily lives can start the healing process of many ailments that plague us in life today. From low back pain, chronic fatigue, joint degeneration and many more common ailments. Moving in optimal alignment reduces compensatory actions that can drain our energy.
The key points mentioned above are a great general guide and map to alignment.
However, if many of you are truly curious and seeking personal insight to understanding your own unique crookedness, I highly recommend that you check out my “Biomechanics” page OR attend one of my very insightful and informative progressive series offered several times throughout the year.