Many of my students have asked me about alignment in Yin Yoga.
They've been to classes where it is being taught and are confused by the instruction and the sensations they feel in their bodies.
The answer is NO, there is NO alignment in Yin Yoga. Alignment is taught with the assumption that all of us are exactly the same. We are NOT exactly the same. The structure of our joints not only differs from person to person but also in our own bodies from right to left. We must learn to position our limbs in each pose in such a way that it creates space in our bodies. How we do that will be different in each student. The importance of this cannot be overstated. If a student is practising aesthetically with alignment that is not suitable for the structure of their joints they are at risk of causing a repetiive injury to their cartilage, nerves, and/or soft tissue. The injury can develop over a short period of weeks or may not manifest for years.
Should it be our goal as teachers or students to try to achieve balance in our bodies by trying to create symmetry?
We are asymmetrical beings. From the weight and size of our right and left lungs to the asymmetry of our organ placement. The difference skeletally from our right and left side can be subtle or substantial. Hip socket (acetabulum) placement and depth can vary greatly from one side to the other; structure of our shoulder joint can also vary from left to right.
Balance does not require symmetry.
In the words of Gil Hedley...
"...so that our uneven anatomy, in it, we can achieve balance.
When we look for symmetry in ourselves or try to impose it on another as a practitioner we run the risk of adding layers of tension and idealization upon ourselves and our clients."
For most students and teachers there is an assumption that what stops us from going deeper in a pose or sometimes even doing the pose at all is that our muscles are tight. We are taught that if we keep practising.... don't worry, it will come. But what if that isn't true? What if, what stops us is not tension but compression? How can we tell the difference between tension and compression in our own bodies and in those of our students?
An aesthetic approach to yoga focuses on how a pose looks, or even worse, how we think a pose should look. When we practise or teach using a functional approach we first determine what is the target area or muscle group in the pose then adapt the pose to each unique individual. The pose becomes our canvas where we are free to explore all the colors and textures that make us uniique, that make us so beautifully different.
Accepting limitations in range of motion is as part of our yoga practice as is improving our range of motion. Understanding the difference between the two is vital in not only maintaining and improving proper function of the muscles and joints but also in preventing injury to them when practising or teaching. What stops us from being in a pose or doing the pose altogether? Is it something I can change or is it something I need to accept?