Alignment is Where the Pose Begins

by Heather Ma, Certified Ma Yoga® Instructor

Often when I practice yoga on my own, I find myself giving cues inside my head. They usually mimic whatever cues I hear my teachers say the most often – things like “ground through all four corners of your feet,” or “draw your shoulder blades together and lift your heart,” or even “take a deep breath in and expand into the pose on your exhale.”

A few months into my Ma Yoga training, as I was practicing the Five Sacred Steps of alignment on my mat, I heard an old voice pop into my head from my first yoga teacher training five years ago. When my breath was constricted in trikonasana, the lingering voice from my power yoga days said, “The moment you want to get out of the pose is when the pose begins.”Some part of me observed this thought, and immediately saw the toxic nature of believing that a pose is only effective when I feel its discomfort. 

I understood the damage of a yoga practice that relied on me overriding cues from my body and mind. I saw the seeds of mistrust in myself that this kind of philosophy had sown in my spirit, and I felt immense relief as an alternative wisdom shed its light: “Alignment is where the pose begins.”

I breathed it in, “Alignment is where the pose begins,” and I expanded into my back as I breathed out (space). I continued with the Five Sacred Steps: I spread my toes and planted my feet (earth), I opened my hips in and back (water), and I drew my pelvis down to activate my power (fire). I filled my body with light and expanded as I reached my arms a little more fully overhead (air), and I felt so at ease in my Trikonasana.

I don’t know if it’s any more true to say “alignment is where the pose begins,” than the alternative I learned five years ago, but it felt a lot more right for me in body, mind, and spirit.

I felt I was joining myself on a journey to self-awareness and self-compassion, not chasing the high of some accomplishment of endurance.

There is always more self-awareness to be had as I practice alignment in my physical body, and as I do, it allows the easeful flow of energy to connect me back to my Higher Self.

Rather than a fight to pit the body and mind against one another by overriding our natural, wise cues, the path to alignment is a never-ending encounter with grace.

The Five Sacred Steps of alignment are wisdom’s ongoing invitation to surrender my practice to a higher call: there is no achievement, only union.

This grace deepens my yoga practice of living in and loving the world – even when I can’t physically be on a mat.

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