Before diving into YogAlign, have you read about ReAlign? Check that out first, since it's the foundation of ideas for a YogAlign practice. It's a quick read with pictures, so go take a look and I'll see you back in a bit...
OK, got it? Staying in alignment means keeping the natural curves in the spine, strengthening the core breathing muscles, and moving with function. Repetitive motions without mindfulness and keen attention to alignment, can create the conditions for pain and injury. Yoga is about union of the mind, body and spirit; it's about cultivating a balance between adding effort and letting it go, on and off the mat. "Breathe through the discomfort," and "The pose begins when you want to come out of it," are instructions that can enhance the chance of a yoga injury. Especially if the pose compromises the alignment of the spine in any way.
Mindfulness in a yoga practice means becoming aware when a pose is not serving the body. For YogAlign, this means modifying asana to mimic movement that is not only biomechanically sensible, but is directly applicable to the movements necessary for daily living.
Keeping your Spine Aligned
Note the photo on the left. That's Michaelle Edwards, founder of YogAlign, demonstrating a very common pose in yoga, a variation of Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Bend. But notice how the spine is straight, the sacrum and cervical vertebrae are compressed, and the head of the femur is at war with the hip socket. Ouch. Do this, and many poses like it, every day over and over for days, weeks, or years and you may be paving the way for a repetitive use injury.
Now, on the lower right, notice how the pose has been modified for functional biomechanics: the spine curves are intact, the neck is lengthened, and the knees are bent so the sacrum and hip joint are no longer compressed. This posture is now supported, strong and totally applicable to daily living. Imagine bending down to get your bag like the picture on the right - that would make a whole lot of sense. So can your yoga practice.
The Breath, The Core
The breath is an essential indicator of (and tool for) proper alignment. If you cannot take a full breath in a certain position than it must be adjusted so that you can. You see, rather than adjusting our bodies to fit into asana, in YogAlign we work to adjust the pose so that it works with our human form, especially our breathing mechanism. The breath is the very core of our being - it has the ability to lengthen the spine and engage many of the muscles that keep us upright and stable. The Focused Breathing technique in YogAlign intuitively brings the spine into its natural curves and engages the entire core to stabilize the spine. If we want to keep our body moving, we must promote the ability to breathe deeply and with ease at all times in our yoga practice.
Stability & Mobility vs. Bend-a-bility
As Michaelle Edwards puts it, "flexibility is a liability." This means that , for many of us, the goal of becoming flexible and the means we go about it through many yoga modalities can result in injury. While it is important to restore natural range of motion to the joints, we must take care not to push our joints beyond their functional limits. The goals of YogAlign are to build strength to promote stability and restore mobility to the joints. If the muscles around a joint are weak, the joint runs the risk of damage as it passes through its range of motion without muscular support. If a joint is repeatedly stretched beyond its range of motion without proper strength in the surrounding muscles, the ligaments will become hyper laxative. Ligaments don't have the same amount of elastin as other connective tissue - once they're over-stretched, they don't snap back. Our work in YogAlign is not about stretching you until you're bendy; we find mobility by working with whole body movements and active stretches that promote joint freedom through strength. You will feel stronger and freer in your body and mind through a yoga practice that is aligned.
PS - If you're worried about losing your challenging yoga flow, don't be. Just wait till you get a load of focus and power it takes to move through the YogAlign Sun Salutation - it'll get you good.