“Turn your toes out 30 degrees.”
“Make your thigh parallel to the floor.”
“Bend your knee to 90 degrees.”
These are instructions you are likely to hear when practicing aligned yoga. This style of Hatha yoga is based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar. Hatha yoga refers to the variety of physical poses (asanas) that are practiced in an effort to tone the muscles, calm the mind, and strengthen the spirit. Here is what you might expect when practicing alignment-based yoga:
Use of Props
Blankets, blocks, straps, bolsters, the wall, chairs, and more are commonly used to practice alignment-based yoga. Let’s face it: not all of us can do the poses seen on the cover of magazines. But all of us can do the poses. Props help us access the poses safely and effectively.
“The body is a prop for the soul. So why not let the body be propped by a wall or a block?” -B.K.S. Iyengar
Before instructing you, the teacher will first demonstrate how to get into and out of the pose while emphasizing key actions. Be sure to watch these demonstrations. There’s nothing worse than straining to see what your neighbor is doing because you missed your teacher’s demonstration.
Poses Are Held
Once your body gets into the form of the pose, it is held there for five to seven breaths, about 30-60 seconds. Some poses are even held for 15-20 minutes! Holding the pose in this way allows you the time it takes to adjust and re-adjust your body to find proper musculoskeletal alignment.
While you are in the pose, your teacher will give you cues to help you find precision in your form. While these cues are based on anatomy and body mechanics, your teacher will break it down for you in a way that is easy to understand. These cues are also intended to bring you into your body and help keep your mind from wondering back to that conversation you had earlier in the day.
Pauses between Each Pose
After you come out of the pose, often times you will wait a breath or two before proceeding on to the next pose. This is to feel the effects that the pose brings. Students often describe a sensation of spaciousness or a surge of energy.
Typically, in alignment-based yoga classes, music is not played. While practicing yoga, we are encouraged to withdraw our external senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch sensations and bring that awareness inward. The yogis call this Pratyahara, or withdraw of the senses. This is just another way to calm the brain and connect the body, mind, and spirit.