When I was new to yoga, I wanted to know how to do yoga postures correctly.
I graduated with a degree in Economics, which means that I love when situations are complicated. I indulge in clean and clear answers that I can practically apply for predictable outcomes.
Systems, graphs, logic? I’m all about it.
As a brand new yoga student who couldn’t even touch my toes, the yoga postures seemed complicated. So, I was determined to find the perfect alignment. Ideally, one that I could apply to every yoga student, ever.
Like any good Economist, I began to research.
I became a yoga instructor and had formal training on posture alignment.
I practiced with almost every influential teacher in Chicago and Seattle. I studied with some of our nation’s Masters in asana. I learned anatomy from doctors, physical therapists, and massage therapists. I taught 3,000+ classes. I adored dogmatic yoga teachers who seemed to know all of the answers.
My desire for the perfect pose was incredibly fruitful.
When I believed in posture “alignment,” my yoga classes sold out. I created the foundational sequence and cues for a wildly popular yoga app. I created a youtube channel to tell you how to practice the poses “right.”
I created a yoga style and teaching methodology that became the foundation of my teacher training.
I can whip out an original sequence, with perfect alignment cues, without thinking twice about it. I know excellent hands-on adjustments to shift my students into the perfect shape. I can easily demonstrate postures with precise alignment, to resemble the models on the cover of Yoga Journal.
I did it! I solved the yoga asana puzzle.
But then I got bored.
In the months leading up to Embodied Flow teacher training in Bali, I must admit that I was pretty tired of teaching yoga asana.
Why? Well, because I figured it out. It’s so easy, and predictable, to teach a good asana-based class once you know the patterns, follow intuitive anatomy pathways and understand the basic alignment of every pose.
But then, in a shala in Bali, Tara Judelle and Scott Lyons asked a simple question that rattled me to my core:
Where is the energy flowing in this posture?
“Uh, what?” was my response.
My entire yoga career I was trained to see angles, lines, and shapes. I knew what muscles were stretching, what bones were involved, and what muscles were firing, and now they were asking an Economist, who built her career on perfecting asana alignment, to see “energy flow”?
But.. with practice, I saw it.
More importantly, I felt it.
In my practice before this question, yoga postures felt like putting on a sweater that didn’t quite fit. I tried and tried to squeeze myself into the shapes, point my bones in the right direction, engage the right muscles, and practice all the cues correctly, simultaneously, just like the teacher said.
If I’m honest about it, it felt like crap.
To be transparent, I’ll admit that I got injured, practicing perfectly, more than once.
Where is the energy flowing in this posture?
This is the question that I ask myself in every pose I practice. It is the question that I ask when watching my yoga students’ practice.
When energy is not stagnant, and it is flowing throughout your entire being, the sthira (steadiness) and the sukha (sweetness) shines through in a beautiful way that one can clearly witness.
Postures, taught from this non-alignment perspective, appear entirely different; energy is flowing throughout every limb and every joint in the entire being. The posture is glowing.
Perhaps this is what Patanjali meant when he wrote the sutra: stira sukham asanam (the posture is steady and sweet).
Nothing is overly tense. No joints are locked out. There is no collapsing into flexibility. There is no striving. The Yogi is moving from a deeper place, a more in-depth alignment...
There is just presence.
There is a palpable connection of the practitioner to their body. There is real reciprocation between the practitioner and the earth. There is an interplay between the yogi and the air and the music...
The entire expression is ALIVE and breathing with the life force!
My posture practice, as a result, has changed.
Poses are now just a facilitator for movement. The poses are a source of inspiration for the direction my body-mind desires to grow, but the postures are not the destination.
When I teach now, I no longer seek shapes.
Instead, I empower my students to be active participants in their yoga journey. I no longer instruct students how to do things correctly, or which way their foot is supposed to point because I learned—through experience and science—that yoga alignment cues don’t make sense in the majority of bodies.
Yogis cannot attain alignment through logic. There are too many variables to consider.
Since this revelation, I invite yogis in my class to find an expression that is life-nourishing and not stressful.
Alignment is something you feel.
It’s something you experience when you root into the fabric of your body. And because every single body is different, this means that every student will look different practicing yoga.
The only perfect pose is a pose that is fully embodied, alive, pulsing with presence.
So, the next time you step on a mat, close your eyes and ask yourself:
Where is my energy flowing in this posture? Where is it stagnant? How can I bring more life to my entire being in this shape?
Adrienne Kimberley Rabena is a 500 E-RYT yoga instructor, barre method founder, entrepreneur and studio owner based in Seattle, WA.
She is committed to inspiring instructors to bring spirit, intuition, critical thinking & philosophy into the art of teaching yoga & barre.
Adrienne leads teacher training, workshops, retreats and mentorship programs.