Some musings on alignment, breath and self expression…

Today’s vinyasa class at Columbus Circle Equinox was truly a joy to teach.  There was something in the energy in the room that was palpable, almost as if the room took on a life and persona of its own.  There is so much that goes into a fulfilling yoga experience, I couldn’t begin to enumerate them in one blog post, so I chose three: alignment, breath and self expression.  Thinking this way reminds me of Edwidge Danticat’s “Breath, Eyes, Memory”…a gifted storyteller and wordsmith.  I will try to call upon the inspiration of talented writers to share some musings of my own…

Alignment…why?  and what is it exactly?  alignment can be many things.  Lets say for example we are talking about the most basic principle of alignment, which is in the tangible, physical realm, of aligning our joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue in an optimal fashion so as to avoid injury, strengthen weaknesses, and stretch and lengthen constricted structures.  When we practice yoga with alignment, we are placing ourselves in the best possible position to reap the benefits of the posture without being too vulnerable to injury or adopting bad habits.  Take warrior I (right leg forward) for example:  ideally, the front knee is bent 90 degrees, and the knee is directly or slightly forward over the front foot/ankle, which is facing directly forward, while the back toes are turned out approximately 45 degrees.  The heel and all five toes of the back foot are in contact with the floor, and we are making every effort to square our hips to the front of the room – this opens up our psoas on the left side, while  – if we are consciously pulling our right hip back, can give some stretch to our right TFL, ITB and glutes.   Meanwhile, our shoulders are drawn down inside our backs, to strengthen the lower fibers of the trapezius group, while giving some rest to the upper fibers of the traps, where most of us tend to hold tension and stress.  If then we are able to close the ribcage, activate the transverse abdominus, and lengthen the torso by grounding down through both feet while stretching up through both hands – well then we have our joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue in alignment.  But what other kinds of alignment can we have?  What about alignment that comes from within?  what about aligning ourselves with our values, and what we consider to be important and sacred to us?  If being loving, compassionate, kind and thoughtful is important, are our lives aligned with those values? Alignment is not only physical – but seeing how detailed it can be as we work through a posture, we see how our yoga practice can be a mirror for other aspects of our lives.

This bring us to the breath: how is breath used in a vinyasa practice, and how can we begin to apply that breath and those principles to other parts of our lives?  In vinaysa, we breath in order to deepen the posture – we breath to give fuel to the body, to remain in the present moment, and to connect what we are doing from the neck down to whatever might be scampering around from the neck up – the thoughts that might be bouncing around in our brain, whatever might be distracting us from our deepest level of attention – when  we focus on the breath, we gain depth, we gain focus and we gain ease, as literally, the additional oxygen provides fuel to muscles and helps flush out lactic acid.  This process is super complicated on a bio-mechanical/physiological standpoint – suffice to say breathing brings another level of awareness to whatever we are doing.  There is also the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the relaxation response in the body, where our heart rate slows down, and our fight or flight response is muted so we can feel less stress, tension and worry.  All that with breath!

Self expression – what happens when we feel a degree of openness, trust, space and creative expression through our body language, or through our postures in class?  What happens when we open the chest another inch, raise the eyes towards the ceiling, pull our shoulders back, and open ourselves to our practice, and to ourselves?  Do our walls come down?  Maybe its a far cry from peeling away layers of protective body language or instinctive protective reactions, but I honestly believe that how we choose to express our bodies says so much about who we  are , how we feel, and how vulnerable we are willing to make ourselves in pursuit of deeper, better and more.  Deeper, better and more what?  Whatever that is for you…for the most part, all processes on the mat start with you, and the deeper you dig, the better you feel, so the more you can express and in turn give to others.  That is how I see it – like a light that gets charged with energy and turns on, so that others can see that light, feel its power and charge their own light and so on…

To summarize, it starts with alignment – of our physical, mental, ethical and spiritual selves – we add breath to gain depth and focus, and with time we venture towards self expression as a way to feel liberated and renewed.  Or at least I do!  Maybe for you yoga is a class you take and you feel better when its over and you don’t consciously take it to any deeper metaphorical level. The world has so much room, there is space for everyone.  Enjoy your practice, remember to breath, and everything will fall into place.  Till next time…

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How did I go from taking yoga classes to instructing almost 20 per week at Equinox in NYC? My yoga experience dates to 1995 when I took Hatha classes at a local community center in Santa Cruz Californ

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