Obsession Over Alignment in Yoga Class


Mysore Style Half Primary Practice

written by Maya Devi Georg

Settle down and unbunch your panties!

Yes, yoga poses must be taught and performed in a way that eliminates the risk for injury. And, yes, the poses should be visually recognizable. (If your Virabadrasana II (Warrior 2) looks more like a bucket of shit, chances are you’re doing it wrong!)

Asana (the physical exercises most folks simply call yoga these days) is not the goal of yoga, it is simply a tool. According to Patanjali, as described in the Yoga Sutras, the only alignment necessary is to be comfortable, steady, and relaxed in asana.

But many teachers today focus exclusively on the asanas and the physical body. As a long time yoga and asana teacher, I understand the necessity of studying anatomy and physiology. After all, asana is a physical practice. Understanding the human body—its capabilities and its limitations—can help teachers understand how to safely instruct students. It is useful in creating balanced sequences and modifying postures depending on a student’s abilities. It also makes you sound really smart! But by placing all the focus on the body we ignore the many benefits to the mind and spirit. If asana is done correctly, the breath is paired with movement and attention is focused on a drshti (point of focus). Asana can be a form of meditation.

Yoga is like a gem, it is multi-faceted. These many facets reflect the light of a practice that extends far beyond mere asana, into breathing, meditation, and many more practices geared toward transforming the practitioner. Obsessing on alignment keeps all the emphasis on the asana and the body. It also emphasizes a level of detail that will neither prevent injury nor make the pose more visually appealing.

I have personally seen teachers spend 15 minutes of a class stressing the importance of perfect alignment in tadasana – the third toe of the foot absolutely had to be in a perfectly straight line from the ankle. This does not make a class safer, nor does it make a class more interesting. This was only a waste of 15 minutes of class time.

But beyond a way to waste class time, here are some more reasons I feel emphasizing alignment over any other principle of yoga, is misguided.

1. Whose Anatomy Are These Principles Based On?

All people have a unique anatomy. No two bodies are the same, we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and our joint structures can vary greatly. So why do we have styles of yoga that have a one-size-fits-all approach to alignment?

This is limiting to most students, and humiliating to others. Ignoring these skeletal and muscular differences only leads to injuries. This is simply irresponsible.

Almost all postures can be modified to accommodate every body type, and every physical limitation. Adhering to only one approved alignment principle excludes those that may not yet be flexible or strong enough, and those whose skeletal structure limits mobility.

2. It Emphasizes Perfection

Focusing exclusively on alignment sets students up for failure. If the standards set in a class are perfection, students are doomed. In some students this can create anxiety and insecurity. Neither is conducive to any part of a yoga practice.

I have seen in some styles of yoga, a pose must be performed ‘perfectly’ or not at all. Perhaps this makes sense if you are competing at the Olympics. But that’s gymnastics, not yoga.

Yoga is neither a performance, nor is it graded and judged. The best way to learn how to do yoga, is by doing yoga, even if that means performing a simplified variation.

Doing the poses perfectly should not be seen as having perfect alignment. Perfection in asana occurs when the practitioner is performing the asana to the best of their ability, maintaining the steadiness and relaxation prescribed by Patanjali. This can be done by matching movement with breath, and maintaining the practice as a meditation.

3. It Creates Dependence to The Teacher

I once took an alignment-based class where the teacher informed me with every posture that I was “doing it wrong.” I was never told exactly what I was doing wrong, nor how to do those poses right. When I asked the teacher how to do the pose “the right way” he ignored me. I never went back. I could see how some students would go back to that same teacher. After all, if they can see an error, they must be able to correct it. Surely, that teacher can show you the right way to practice. This behavior exploits student’s insecurities

If your yoga teacher is telling you that you are doing every pose wrong, but does not tell you exactly what, or how to correct it, please, find a new teacher. Emotionally crippling students to keep paying off the teacher’s BMW lease is immoral.

A good teacher wants their students to exceed their own abilities, not keep students dependent. The only reason to go to a yoga class is to work on your practice. Your asana teacher is not enlightened. So focus on growing your practice, and growing as a person.
Do not focus on the teacher, they are the guide, not the goal.

4. It Limits Advancement

My own lineage does not focus on alignment beyond safety. And yet, I can do and have successfully and safely taught thousands of students how to do advanced asanas.

What is my secret? Just do the pose to the best of your ability. Sometimes that requires props, and other times spots. Yoga asanas can only be learned by doing them.

If you must wait to master one pose before you can begin working on another, you will wait, sometimes for years, while your body loses flexibility and strength. Besides, how long do you want to work on tadasana?

The best way to learn how to do an advanced (or any) asana is by doing those asanas. An experienced teacher is necessary to help break down the postures and build the necessary flexibility and strength for the pose. And, No!, just because a teacher can do the pose does not mean they can teach it, anymore than a teacher that can not do the pose means they cannot teach it.

5. It Makes Students Think & Not Feel The Pose

The most powerful part of an asana practice is not in the appearance of the pose, but in the flow of subtle energies within the body. When a teacher over-talks, giving far too many details about the alignment of a pose, it takes the student out of their body and into their mind. Instead of feeling they are thinking, and they are usually thinking “Am I doing this right?”  (Cue the sneak peak to either a mirror or other students)

Asana can also be a meditation, and yogic meditation is nothing more that concentration. Giving students more cues, corrections, and directions only distracts students from focusing on being in the pose.

The purpose of yoga is to transform the self into the Self. In hatha yoga, we learn to control the body and breath as a precursor to controlling the mind. If the teacher is filling the minds of students with instruction after instruction, causing a student’s thoughts to spin wildly out of control, then the teacher has failed to teach yoga.

6. You Never Get Past Asana

Focusing only on the gross physical aspects of yoga is so limiting. Yoga is a vast field of study and there are many forms. Hatha Yoga, the yoga that includes asana, also emphasizes pranayama, meditation, and much more.

The lineages that rely most on alignment principles seem to include little, or no, pranayama or meditation in their classes (this is not a criticism, it is only an observation). This is mainly because pranayama and meditation cannot be explained through anatomy and physiology. Of course there are physiological responses to meditation, and respiratory physiology is fascinating.

But, the transformational power of pranayama and meditation are immeasurable and transcend the gross and physical world.

Yoga is more than getting fit. It is a spiritual practice. If we only focus on the body, we lose the true value of yoga as a whole. Let us use our bodies as a vehicle, not as an end. Worshipping our bodies will only disappoint us as we age, grow ill, and ultimately watch our bodies die. Rather than aligning our bones and bodies, let us align our spirits and souls with our values, our morality, and our true Self.

Let us practice yoga, not just asana.

This, too, will pass


This, too, will pass. What is it about these simple words that makes them so powerful? Looking at it superficially, it would seem while those words may provide some comfort in a bad situation, they would also diminish the enjoyment of the good things in life. “Don't be too happy, because it won't last.” This seems to be what they are saying when applied in a situation that is perceived as good.

... These words have a deeper purpose: to make you aware of the fleetingness of every situation, which is due to the transience of all forms – good or bad. When you become aware of the transience of all forms, your attachment to them lessens, and you disidentify from them to some extent.

- Eckhard Tolle, A New Earth

My dear readers, This, too, will pass are the words my Ex told me while we were breaking up. I remember them very well. Couple days ago she texted me and asked me what happened to our divorce. 

Today, I visited Family Court and applied for the divorce. I filled out the papers, paid the appropriate fee and filed for divorce. This is Phase 1 of the divorce process. There is another phase with additional documents but this has to be done after 8-10 weeks. Well, the process is started. This, too, will pass but I feel emotionally drained.  

So far, I was trying to be a friend with my Ex. I've texted her, made jokes, trying to make her smile, sent her my pics, called her for yoga class, called her to join for the dinners with my daughter, etc.. 

But now, all that is changed. I texted her back and I told her that we are not and we will not be friends. In the back of my mind I am clear - the two of us can not be friends.

If I ever see her, I'll exchange small talk and be nice. But I would never call her to hang out, or invite her to celebrate birthday of our daughter. I just don’t think being a friend with her is a good idea.  I allow our relationship to die out. This, too, will pass.

The words This, too, will pass are pointers toward the impermanence of all things, events and feelings. If we lose this view or rather if this is not known, the things of the world assume an absolute importance, a seriousness and heaviness that in truth they do not have. 

I love my wrists



Practicing daily ashtanga yoga is very tough on the body especially on wrists. In Half Primary there is total of 45 vinyasas and each vinyasas is repetition of downward facing dog - chaturanga - upward facing dog.  Soreness is common because wrist is weak joint and it must be gradually strengthen up. While doing the practice wrists should be well protected.

If we look at our palm, we see that there are peaks and valleys. When placed on the floor the weight should mainly rest on the peaks, the elevation of the hands, and the rest distributed evenly through the extended fingers.  Spread fingers wide apart from the thumb to the baby finger. This will insure that weight is evenly distributed on hands, protecting wrists.

Do not use a soft mat. Watch if the base of wrist goes below the fingertips. That is big no no, it is in hyperextension and it causes wrist injury.

The health of wrists depends upon the strength and tone of the muscles on the tops and bottoms of our forearms. Try not to get discouraged. The muscles in the hands will build up over time with consistent practice, and hopefully the wrist pain will be avoided.

We learn by doing it


For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. - Aristotle

Today is October 29, 2014. It is exactly one month since I started my daily ashtanga yoga practice. I am now in week 5 and today is my 3rd practice for this week. Having a daily yoga practice is not that hard. What is hard  is letting go of ideas and convictions around what daily practice should look. Do not expect something from your practice. My advice is to just do it with smile if possible.

The main reason we struggle to develop a daily yoga practice is because we are holding on to our imagination and expectation, some idealized version of what experience of the practice will look like. Ashtanga yoga is a simple tool intended to support human well-being and happiness. If we really want a consistent daily ashtanga yoga practice, we need to let go of the idea that the practice is just another exercise routine. Our daily yoga practice will need to overcome illness, injury, and fatigue. 

A recent Norwegian study found that daily yoga practice results in boost of immunity at a cellular level. Yoga helps to boost immunity by simply increasing overall health.

Research shows that migraine sufferers have fewer and become less painful after three months of yoga practice. The cause of migraines isn’t fully understood, but it is suggested that could be a combination of mental stress and physical misalignment that create migraines and other issues. 

Studies have found that 12 weeks of yoga can improve sexual desire, arousal, performance, confidence, orgasm and satisfaction for both men and women. Physically, yoga increases blood flow into the genital area, which is important for arousal and erections and strengthens the mula bandha. 

Researchers from Harvard found that eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improved sleep quality for people with insomnia. This can be attributed to yoga’s ability to help people deal with stress

Researchers from the University of Washington found that regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, an awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. 

Finding a daily routine to include yoga in our life isn't easy and excuses can sometimes prevent us from creating a healthy and regular yoga routine. Time is always on our side in yoga. The more we practice, the better we will feel. Ashtanga yoga is a journey, not competition or expectation of achievement.

The great thing about ashtanga yoga is that we continue to improve through life, and age has nothing to do with ability in yoga. Indeed, practicing ashtanga yoga daily into our senior years is a goal to aspire to as it will keep you fit, confident, strong, flexible, mentally and physically balanced, and self-disciplined.

Chaturanga Dandasana



No, I don't have intention neither to be yoga teacher nor to write here about yoga poses. But there are three poses in Ashtanga yoga that must be learned ASAP: Downward Facing Dog, Upward Facing Dog and Chaturanga Dandasana aka the low plank. This post is about the chaturanga.

There’s physical challenge of being inches above mat in a low plank position. While chaturanga can be a great way to develop your arms and core, the alignment needs to be right on. But, chances are, we aren’t performing the pose as safely and soundly as we’d think. Most people, including me, have done chaturanga wrong for years and that is not a good thing. We do it wrong because it is hard.  

Chaturanga requires a great deal of strength to be performed correctly and it is very easy to injure yourself if you move into it too soon. If you do not yet have the strength to do the pose in proper alignment, practice Plank Pose until you can support your full body weight correctly.

1. Keep shoulders in line with elbows. Do not let shoulders drop toward the floor. This is most important thing in this pose... do not let your shoulders drop below the height of your elbows. It’s better for shoulders to be too high in the pose than too low.

2. Fully engage abdominal and leg muscles. Do not use brute strength to muscle your way into the pose — this will overuse the front muscles of your body (chest, abdomen, biceps, shoulder heads). Instead, think of the body as one compact unit. Utilize the back muscles of the body (back torso, shoulder blades, triceps, hamstrings, and calves) with equal effort as the front.

3. Keep elbows hugged along ribcage, pointed toward heels. Keep your elbows stacked directly above wrists. Doing so may require coming forward a bit more on the balls of your feet, shifting torso toward the top edge of the mat. The Upper arms and forearms should create a perfect 90-degree angle.

Remember, chaturanga is not a push-up and requires inner strength as much as pure muscle strength.

Tomorrow is next practice


A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious successElbert Hubbard

Grape, Pineapple, Blackberries, Banana, Carrot Juice and Supplements

I woke up at 6 am eager to do my practice. It was dark and cold. I turned on the heating to the maximum closed windows and had coffee on my favorite sofa. Last night before sleep I took iBrufen to calm inflammation on my muscles. In the morning, I was feeling fine, nothing hurt me, my back was okay. I felt rested and ready for the first practice in the week 5.

The practice was excellent. I did it with the Sharat's counts. I turned on the DVD and followed all the postures of Half Primary. This morning my attention was on vinayasa, mula bandha and breath. In every vinayasa I tried to pull my knees up in the air as close to my torso as possible,  to lift up using blocks and to turn and extend my legs back. Yes, it is happening.. the jump back. I tried couple of times without blocks but it is difficult, the lift up is not enough.

After practice I eat fruit breakfast: grape, banana, blackberries and pineapple with carrot juice and from this morning I am starting to take some supplements: fish oil and an antioxidant. I will continue taking vitamin C after the lunch. With these supplements, slowly, I am hoping to increase the metabolism.

Weekend was quiet, a lot of walking. On Saturday 3 hours and on Sunday about 2 hours. Thats a lot of walking. Also yesterday, I went to stores and bought a lot of clothes for me and my daughter. I wanted to surprise her. I bought all day casual stuff like socks, tights, pajamas, jeans, a bag, wallet, glows, t-shirts, sport-wear etc. I decided not only to give her money but to support her by buying her clothes. I have a very good relationship with my daughter. 

And this is my life. Today is Monday, it is the most depressing day in the week but I feel fine. Tomorrow is next practice. :-)  

Sunday, the day of rest


Eventually, competition and adventure wane, and I enter my ibuprofen phase. Tweaky hamstrings and achy knees restrict mileage, but I continue running for health, sanity, and the ritual of a Sunday trail run with like-minded buddies. We discuss the nagging injuries that bedevil us, and remember the good old days when we were kings.
- Don Kardong

Yes, when we were kings. :-) What are we now?

Sunday? It is the day of the rest. I did not go to yoga studio today I took well deserved break. 

On Friday I was practicing with Pathabi Jois counts using youtube video from his lead primary class. OMG the poses are held for a long period. I enjoyed the practice and I left to work tired but satisfied.

Yesterday I woke up at 7 am, eat the fruit breakfast, made some cooking for the day and I impatiently waited for the yoga class at the local studio. At 11:30 am I walked to the class.

The Saturday class was so intense. I got assisted in wheel pose. Teacher pull me up and I moved hands 2 feet closer to the legs. My arms were straight. The teacher said that I am natural for back bends. I just did not practice it.

Yesterday after yoga studio practice, the Angel came and we went for a long walk in High Park. We also visited my friend and went for a dinner at the nearby pub. We went to bed around 8:30 pm, but I could not sleep because I had a large burger for dinner. My stomach can not handle the burger anymore. I had stomach pain. This morning we got up at 9 pm and we went to High Park again. These pictures are taken at High Park. Beautiful autumn days in Toronto. High Park is so colorful; various shades of yellow, green and red.  

Next week is the ultimate yoga challenging week. It is the week 5 since I stared daily yoga practice. I feel tired, my hamstrings are tight, I have pain in lower back and I have to pay special attention for upward facing dog. That is a reason I put the previous post. Well I write this blog but I also read it. I need something to remind and motivate me for my practice.

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana


Upward Facing Dog Pose
Contraindications and Cautions: Back injury!

In the Ashtanga Primary Series, we move through upward-facing dog 50 times in a single session. Doing lots of upward-facing dogs can be a very good thing, provided we do them properly. We’ll gain strong arms and legs; a broad, open chest; a supple spine; and a deep, powerful breath. But if we push beyond our capacity or use bad technique, all that repetition can put a lot of wear and tear on our body, especially our lower back.

If back starts to hurt at any point during upward-facing dog pose:
  • Soften your lower back muscles to let your pelvis dangle farther down.
  • Lean your trunk farther forward.
  • Pull your arms back harder to lift your chest up and forward more.
  • Tighten the muscles at the base of your buttocks, to tilt the pelvis farther upright.
  • And, as a last resort, bend your knees.

Going To Bed At 9 pm


Friday... Yooohooo!!! 

Of course, last night I went to bed at 9 pm. This morning got up at 6 am and I did 4th practice with Pathabi Jois counts. Exact five breaths in standing postures. Week 4 - Practice 4 done! My plan is to go to studio tomorrow for Half Primary Led class at 12:15 pm and on Sunday for Ashtanga level 1 at 3:15 pm. Week 5 is starting, Monday will be a rest day. I feel great...

Ever since I started practicing yoga, 8 years ago, I always got so tired by mid-evening. Most people fall asleep on the couch around 9 pm, and I too was feeling very sleepy at that time. I hear my friends said they fell asleep around that time too, yet they would continue their evenings until 11 pm or maybe later. 

As you know, most social things happened in the evenings, and the nights out actually never start until 9 pm. Before I used to follow the crowds and do the same. In order to do this I needed to use something to keep me awake, such as drinking two cups of coffee. I did, however, find that I was always struggling to stay awake, even with coffee. I would sit watching my friends leaping around, talking and having fun, while my whole body just felt like going to bed.

In my relationship, my marriage,  again, by 9 pm I was always struggling to stay awake, and my Ex was working late so she would come to bedroom just to say goodnight. So many times I was forcing myself to stay awake until she comes from the work so that we can have some conversation. I used to stay on the net or watch all kinds of boring series on TV just to stay awake.

It was always a strange feeling for me to be awake and not to go to bed because it is just early in the night. The push to stay up made me feel constantly on edge, and by the time I got to bed I was so tired I often so hungry that I needed to eat something to put me to sleep. But this put me in a constant daily cycle of sleeping restlessly and feeling exhausted when I awoke.

During all of this I would often say to myself, why am I not going to bed when I am tired? Yet it kept on going; it continued to place a toll on my well being, and I was so irritable. What I found was that, when I tried to stay up later, the quality of my sleep was always deeply affected, I felt too hot and I sweat a lot in the sleep. 

After divorce I am living alone and things changed. I am my own boss now. Really. In the beginning of September, I read on the net that the most natural sleep rhythm for our bodies is to be in bed by 9 pm, this being the time when our body is able to rest and gain optimum healing during the night. This for me was one of my life changing moments, and made so much sense. I could now feel that my  body, since being a middle-aged, is asking me to go to bed around 9 pm. I realized I'm not the one who is abnormal, as there is a natural truth in our biological make up whereby being in bed by 9 pm is normal.

Since September I gave myself permission to go to bed when I was tired, and in particular to go to bed around 9 pm. Daily yoga practice became easy. At first, friends joked with me, but by now they all just got used to me going to bed early. I absolutely love being in bed by 9 pm, and I love taking the time early in the evening to go into a peaceful phase prior to going to bed. I usually read a book before falling to sleep.  I love the mornings whether it is 5 am or 6 am. I like to be quiet, to watch sun rising, to actually feel the new day beginning before all of the usual daily traffic sounds. 

Simple things make a huge amount of difference. Nowadays, I feel my yoga practice makes me stronger but I feel so much less tired than I ever did.

Full Primary - One Pose at a Time


Life is happening in the present moment. But so often, I let the present slip away, allowing time to rush in and then I'm swallowed by thoughts, considering past or worrying about future. Everyone agrees it's important to live in the moment, but the problem is how. When I am not in the moment, I'm not there to know that I'm not there. It is a paradox: I can't pursue "living in the present" so what can I do... 

Now is Thursday morning, October 23, it is the new-moon day so there is no yoga. I got up at 6 AM as usually. Today and yesterday morning I have practiced mula bandha awareness. I was siting in the cross-legged position for about 20 minutes and I was trying to isolate mula bandha. I was contracting and relaxing the muscles of my ass :-). Will see what comes from this practice.

Week 4 of my daily yoga practice is going very well. I did 3 consecutive practices and today I enjoy deserved rest. Last night I was on led full primary series in local studio. The class was at 6:00 PM, it was packed, there was more than 20 people and energy was high. During the class I tried to place my attention on mula bandha. It is really hard...

We started with the chant followed by Sun Salutations... 5 A and 3 B. I'm not quite sure what is the reason but now days at the lead primary class it is always 3A+3B or 5A+3B. I was taught that it should be 5A+5B. Anyway, in sun salutations I was stretching myself and I enjoyed the movements. 

Padagustasanas, Trigonasanas and Parsvakonasanas were strong and I did it with precision and long breaths. I kept contracting mula bandha while I was pulling my stomach in. Teacher counted a long 5 breaths in each pose and my heart-rate increased. 

I calmed the breath in Prasarita poses and Parsvotanasana. In Prasarita, my head is just an inch from the floor. Since I started daily practice, here, I see the most improvement. I'm hoping by next month or so I'll be able to touch the floor with my head. 

In Uthita-hasta-padangustasanas my standing leg was not straight and I was fighting with the balance. Teacher counted so slowly and I lost balance and touched the floor couple of times. I was breathing heavily and mula bandha was nowhere to be found. 

I did modification for Ardha-badha-padmotanasana, I bend the knee and touched the floor with my both hands. I was feeling pain like something puling out from the hips. Indeed, good hip opener but very unpleasant pose.

Utkatasana and Virabidrasanas were okay. I was breathing heavily and my legs were trembling. Long five breaths on each side so I felt we are in the poses forever. I could hardly wait to sit down. I noticed that I don't bend the legs enough like in sun salutation B. 

Breathing heavily and sweating like in the rain, I sit in Pashimotanasanas. I tried to engage mula bandha as hard as I could. I used long ujai breathing in order to calm the heart. In Urvatasana I was refreshed and strong.

In Janu-sirsasanas I tried to save the energy as much as I can. Long inhalation and exhalations in the poses and strong arms in vinayasas. I used blocks for the vinayasas. I am learning jump back and now I can lift myself up, do the rolling and extend my legs back. For now I can do that only with the blocks. Then I put blocks on the side and do jump through but that is not even close as how should be. 

Maryachasana A was okay, B - done with modification, C - just stop sigh, I can not bind as I use to do it before (stomach fat issue), and D - done with modification.

Navasana, 5 times, 5 long counts, with straight legs. On third time I started trembling and shaking, my heart started to beat faster... First time since we started the practice I was feeling tired. Yes I was accustomed to half primary class. But here I have to continue.

Bujapidasanas and kurmasana are out of my comfort zone so I did just modification, mimicking the poses. I was breathing heavily and I tried to reconnect with the ujai breathing and keep a kind of pressure on mula bandha. 

I don't know how I did Pindasana and Kukutasana, I simply don't remember those poses. My mind went blank. My breath returned in Badha Konasanas and Padagustasanas. I felt a bit recovered from tiredness, my breathing become normal and I performed Setu-bandasana okay. I even did chakrasana.

Urdva Dandursana was performed 3 times with five breaths. I was quick and I did not follow teacher's count but I did it three times. I went straight to forward bend, my heart wanted to go out of the chest. The back-bend was so intense and I almost strengthen my hands. I felt warm and flexible.

I calmed the breath in Sarvagasana and Halasana. I was feeling panic in pindasanas. My stomack was pressing me. OMG such a large stomach I have. I can see it clearly in these poses. Matsyasana was okay and I did Utana-padmasana too. I like those poses, they feel good for the back.

Sirsana - 15 breath counts. I was strong and I supported the pose by arms and elbows and very little by head. I can not stand more then 15 breaths in the pose due to such balance or rather imbalance, I am not relaxed into the pose. 

I can not sit in the lotus position so Yoga-mudra, Padmasana and Utplithi were done with cross -legged modification. I was exhausted and when we stand for the last sun salutation I was so shaky. But my mind was quiet.

In Shavasana I did not think. I did not have power to think. I just lied down observing my trembling muscles.