In recent years, yoga has become incredibly popular in Western countries, within mainstream society, the corporate world, prison systems, and among medical professionals that recommend yoga to their patients. As a yoga teacher, I find this super exciting and helpful for the people of our communities! However, the unfortunate truth is, due to the fact more people are doing yoga, we are seeing more yoga-related injuries.
Don’t freak out though! Studies have shown that these injuries could be prevented with knowledge of healthy pose alignment and honoring your body’s signs of tiredness and pain. This is relieving to hear, because while pose alignment is a controversial topic in the yoga world, most teachers agree that there are certain alignment techniques that are necessary for the integrity of our anatomy. Of course, we all have different bodies from differing experiences and genetics, but there are also some key similarities among most humans regarding anatomy that make it beneficial to learn specific pose adjustments and stay safe.
There are certain alignment techniques that are necessary for the integrity of our anatomy.
That being said, I also want to address that while the lineage of how one pose is taught might work for one person, it might be incredibly painful or even impossible for another person, so rather than bombarding you with various alignment cues for each pose, today, I’m only going to list the advice that a majority of people can benefit from. I want you to read this article with the intention that you will make the yoga pose work for you, not that you will work for the yoga pose. I also hope that after reading this article that you will understand the benefits of this knowledge and want to absorb these alignment tips to make your yoga practice safer and beneficial to your physical health!
Hands can be at your heart in prayer pose or you can have arms over head with, or without a backbend.
If you’re familiar with vinyasa yoga, you’ll know that the warrior poses are traditionally a large part of the practice. I chose to explain Warrior I because I find my students think it is the most unnaturally felt pose of them all, and they tend to question whether they’re doing the pose correctly.
In Warrior I, there is a myth that heels need to be aligned, like on a tightrope. This is not true. If it feels better, move your back leg out to the side a couple inches. However, be sure your foot is turned out at a 45 degree angle to have steady balance.
As for your torso, it should be facing forward, so that you feel a strong twist. If your torso isn’t forward yet, inhale to lift your ribs and then turn your torso towards the front of the mat. Hands can be at your heart in prayer pose or you can have arms over head with, or without a back bend.
It’s very important to warm up core muscles before attempting triangle pose.
Often times, I’ll have my students transition from side angle pose to triangle pose because it works similar muscles to side angle pose, in addition to a nice calf stretch. However, while I see many beautiful side angle poses, triangle pose can get sloppy.
The main issue I see with triangle pose is the collapsing of the torso. It’s very easy for the body to collapse in triangle because you have one arm on the inside of the foot and gravity is also not in your favor. It’s extremely important to warm up your stomach muscles before triangle pose, so that you’ll be able to fight gravity, not letting your body droop, and you won’t strain your stomach from overworking the muscles.
In addition, it’s imperative to ensure that your arm is vertical to your shoulder to keep your chest open. This will allow you to breathe easier into this pose, rather than hunching and disabling the breathing process of your lungs.
An incorrect position during bridge pose puts your inner thighs, knees or back at a higher risk of injury.
Bridge pose is an excellent way to strengthen your back, your quads, and glutes, while also being a great chest opener. However, if you do Bridge incorrectly, it’s easy to injure your inner thighs, knees or back.
Make certain that your your legs and feet are parallel to your torso. If you turn your legs and feet out, you risk injury to your inner thighs and knees (even if you try it for a second, you’ll feel a strange discomfort). Also, lift your back enough that you feel a stretch, but do not push yourself too far. If you’re clenching the muscles in your back too strongly, you will most likely wake up the next day with back pain, which is definitely not something we’re trying to achieve!
This is a challenging pose that requires close attention to your shoulderstand.
While this is considered one of the more challenging poses you can start learning early on, it can be dangerous if not done correctly. Safely, the pose feels like a massage on the shoulders and neck after a long day at the computer or driving, as well as strengthening the lower back and stretching the leg muscles, but done wrong, it can hurt the neck, legs muscles, and lower back.
Before coming into Plow pose, focus on creating a safe shoulder stand. Legs should be up, and completely vertical to the torso to keep the spine straight. Support your lower back with your hands until you feel you can create a safe shoulderstand without their support. Once you can do shoulder stand without hand support, bring the legs over your head one at a time, without compressing your spine. If it is uncomfortable to straighten the legs or spine in this pose, you may need to do less intense stretches on the legs and back before coming into this pose again. This will prevent injury to the body parts that are engaged.
Squat just as deep as you can keep your spine straight to protect your back.
Garland pose is a deep squat that can be difficult for those in western countries. Unlike many eastern countries where people have traditionally squatted deeply as a comfortable sitting position, we often use chairs, which limit our mobility. Practicing this pose is great for increasing leg and hip mobility when alignment is on point.
The main issues I see with students and this pose is going deeper into a squat than comfortable, and not turning out the toes. Eventually, you may be able to keep your toes facing forward while in Garland pose and sink close to the ground. However, unless that’s the case, it’s safer to point the toes out before squatting and stop going deeper when your body signs it’s at its limit. Also, the further out the feet are, the easier it’ll be to squat.
Another common misalignment is that yogis will sometimes let their torso fall forward to get into a deeper squat. It is better to not squat as deep and keep your spine straight to protect your back.
My last point is a word of caution and advice, more than an alignment cue: If you find your heels won’t touch the ground, don’t try to force them, for it can tear your Achilles’ tendons. To prevent loss of balance in Garland pose, roll a blanket and put it under your heels until you have greater flexibility in the back of your legs. Your body will thank you later!
I know this was a lot of information, but I assure you that you can read it over again and it will benefit you tremendously! Practicing yoga is a fun way to stay healthy, get exercise, and feel better about yourself. However, as you’ve just learned, it’s easy to make mistakes that negatively affect your health. Moving forward, I hope you will take this advice on pose alignment to mind, along with further researching other poses you may not feel fully comfortable with or confident doing safely, so you can fully enjoy your yoga practice and make it a tool, rather than a hazard!
If you have any comments or questions, we’d love to hear from you, so please contact us intuitively with whatever it is you want to share!
Yoga Alliance-registered yoga teacher, entrepreneur and professional writer based in Thousand Oaks, California. She loves sharing yoga and yoga philosophy with people all around the world through her teaching and writing, with the intent of helping others become their healthiest and most confident selves! You can find her at www.facebook.com/HaileyLuderYoga or www.haileyluder.com