By Samantha Meisner
The Importance of Alignment as the Foundation for our Flow Practice
“And exhale, chaturanga; inhale, upward-facing dog; exhale, downward-facing dog…”
The fluidity and the constant tide of movement in our flow practice is a beautiful 2104thing. It helps us to remain present and focused as we match breath with movement and movement with breath in an ever-moving sequence of graceful, strong, opening postures. It’s like a mindful dance for our body, mind and breath.
However, over time, we can begin to lose a certain element of mindfulness in this practice. As the sequencing and the poses become more familiar to both mind and body, the practice begins to become second nature. When the poses were new, we had to be one hundred percent present just to keep up. As time goes by, the mind may remain present with the aid of the breath and the simple act of moving but often, the easily distracted mind (and that’s most of us) can feel freer to wander out of the body and onto, say, what glorious treats await at the café round the corner once class is over… And with this ‘mindlessness’, this increasing lack of mind to body connection and awareness, we become more prone to injury as we create unconscious bad habits. A practice that should be nurturing is in danger of becoming damaging. Sure, from the outside our body might look better than it ever has, our skin might be glowing, we might be sleeping better, feeling more energised…but can we realistically sustain a mindless, sometimes physically careless practice for years to come?
And this leads us to the bigger question: how do we continue to stay present in our flow practice and avoid ‘losing our mind’ and damaging our body?
As students of this practice, (and it is called a practice for a reason), I urge you to never lose your desire for discovery, even in the simplest poses. Never believe that you have nothing left to learn. As we become more familiar with the ‘standard’ asana of our flow practice, we must commit to tuning in ever deeper to what is going on beneath the surface. It’s called ‘beginners mind’. And there is something being offered up to us in every class we take that can ground or re-ground our practice in mindfulness, in focus and in safety.
In class, if you are truly tuned in to the present moment, you will hear your teacher offering you up a steady stream of alignment cues, to help you deepen, soften, engage and connect deeply in to your body in each pose. More often than not, these alignment cues are based on what the teacher is seeing in the room at that very moment – so they might just apply exclusively to you. Alignment cues are there to enable us to make detailed discoveries about our body as it moves through different positions and also to keep our bodies safe, working within a healthy range of motion.
“Draw your shoulder blades down the back”,
“Align your front heel with your back heel”
“Wrap your upper arms in towards each other”
– these are a few alignment cues that you’ve probably heard before and they are all given to bring greater stability and safety to your practice.
Understanding how to align our body to get the optimum benefits from every asana helps us to find a deeper, more meditative focus on the mat. Off the mat, we might find ourselves more acutely aware of the way we stand, sit and move throughout our day. Sometimes it can take years for one little alignment cue to really ‘drop in’ to mind and body…and that is the beauty of this path of discovery. So, next time you step onto the mat in a Hot Flow or Vinyasa class, tune in, be willing to discover and always ask yourself, “Am I truly listening? Am I fully present?”