It wasn’t even that many years ago, I remember telling students to keep their knees always tracking with their toes, and definitely don’t ever, EVER let your knee go past your toes. [Audible Gasp] THE HORROR! [Clutches Pearls.]
Back then, I bought into the idea that alignment in yoga practice was the most important thing that I could teach a student. I had been taught to believe “proper” alignment was the one thing keeping my students from being injured puddles of mess on the floor. I’m now here to ask you to forgive me and set this myth free. I can only forgive myself because it’s so widely accepted and propagated in the yoga community, that I believed it must be true.
The truth is the body was designed to do a whole bunch of really cool things that don’t consider alignment. Have you ever watched dancers? Have you seen the crazy things they do with their bodies? Or how about gymnastics? Much of gymnastics seems super-human. Weightlifters, Ballers, and Rock Climbers are all pushing their bodies to the max, and taking their knees way out past the toes, and I’m sure there are more examples.
Now, if you weren’t properly trained up, and set out to do any of these things, you would be an injured mess on the floor. But we’re not doing these things, at least not in my yoga classes! Luckily, yoga practice meets our bodies exactly where they are, and the mindfulness cultivated in yoga helps us to gauge, vary, and modify our practice depending on our experience any given day. BTW, Mindfulness is more likely to save you than alignment. Think about it, if you push yourself into a pose your body wasn’t prepared to do, and you ignored all the preliminary pain signals, then you will end up injured no matter what kind of alignment you use.
Mindfulness coupled with preparation are the keys to staying healthy and injury free. Actually, scratch that. We can’t plan on not being injured; injuries are part of moving around in this human form. What we can do is prepare the body to move in so many different ways that we are less likely become injured from a misstep. Yoga is great for this, because within each practice we cycle through a whole range of different motions.
So please, stop worrying so much about alignment. If you are roughly in the shape of a Warrior, then you are in Warrior. If your body feels better when your knee is with your toes, great. But if it doesn’t, that’s great, too. Assume if your body does it freely and easily, if there’s no force, and if your breath is still a comfortable pace, then you are a-okay in your alignment. Don’t force yourself into a certain aesthetic, and certainly don’t sacrifice your body to try and look like others in the pose.
We all have different faces, different eyes, different noses, so doesn’t it also make sense that we would have different looking Warrior poses? Our bones aren’t shaped the same, we have different body histories and preferences, so let’s agree we will have to find our own way into yoga poses. Use your mindfulness, add some variety, and keep yourself properly prepared instead of properly aligned.