Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Flow and Alignment

I come from a studio that is steeped in a strong tradition of alignment that focuses on moving into each pose with intent and awareness, assessing where the breath is, while internally adjusting this or that. Safety and appropriate level of practice as the student moves through the postures is stressed. However, I practice a tradition that emphasizes moving, following each breath, holding the posture for 5 breaths (or less if I’m doing vinyasa) and moving on.



In the workshops I’ve attended on the Ashtanga tradition, alignment is infrequently addressed. David Swenson is the only instructor I’ve attended that has even touched on it during a session. I have observed in other instructors that the focus is on the movement, the breath, bandha’s, and drishti and alignment is secondary - that alignment will come as the body gains flexibility.

So how as a student, a practitioner, and an instructor do I reconcile these two aspects? One tradition wants methodical alignment, one tradition wants meditative movement. Is there place for both? I think so, and in doing so, I think I have a stronger, safer practice because of it.

I believe I’ve mentioned before, that in the most traditional form of Ashtanga you would do only the Ashtanga practice under the guidance of an instructor and at home. The instructor monitors the student and when the instructor feels a pose or series of poses has been mastered to their satisfaction, the student is allowed to progress in the sequence. The individual would not be allowed to start Second Series until several key poses in Primary Series have been mastered.

In an Iyengar class, poses are taught from the ground up (foundation), emphasizing internal and external alignment and it may very well take half an hour or an hour to work through a pose. Poses are also held longer. I have heard, for example, in a traditional Iyengar class that a person is not allowed to do Salamba Sirasana (supported headstand) until they can keep their head off the floor enough to slip a piece of paper underneath. A traditional Hatha class is similar, focusing on individual poses that may target an area for the session (forward folds or hips for example).

I enjoy both of these forms and have determined there is place for both. When I lead an Ashtanga or Vinyasa class, I level the poses to encourage people to move into a place that is appropriate for them (or me, if I’m doing the sequence on my own). It’s the old adage here: you crawl before you walk, walk before you run, etc. How I approach poses is: what do I need to do to safely get from Point A (where I am working) to Point B (where I want to be).

I enjoy working outside of the Ashtanga sequence and I encourage others to do so as well: a Hatha or Ieyngar class focuses on the poses in such a way as to allow the body to gradually learn where it needs to go while utilizing and exploring a wide variety of poses not found in the Primary Series. This translates into a safe, strong, practice that builds confidence. A Vinyasa class helps with the breath and stamina necessary to move through an Ashtanga sequence, which also helps build strength and confidence.



So yes, I believe there is place for multipule traditions. Go, enjoy, and see what happens with your practice.

Pictures are from lovetoknow.com >> yoga poses

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