First of all, we need to understand what alignment means. It is a term you will hear a lot in a yoga class, and your teacher will use phrases like ‘lengthening the spine’, ‘lines of energy’, and even ‘stacking the joints’. Depending on the type of yoga class you go to you may be offered props to help you get into the best alignment.
Alignment helps you stay safe when you are exercising. It enables the body to move easily as it was designed to do, and it helps the energy flow in the body. Another favourite of the yoga teacher is the phrase ‘listen to your body’. This can also feel like conflicting information when you're trying to attempt a pose that feels really uncomfortable and your teacher is encouraging everyone in the class to hold it for longer or move a little further, but seriously you do need to listen to your body. Stop if it hurts.
We are Unique
Alignment isn't designed to make the pose look like you've stepped out of a yoga catalogue, everybody is different, and alignment may be slightly different for everyone. It is also something we have to learn, because generally over the years our bodies are used in such a way that alignment basically goes out the window (think squashy sofas, desk chairs, and mattresses that should have been replaced 10 years ago). You can't just do a forward bend because you've never asked your hips to do that since you were a child playing on the floor.
One of the reasons we are concerned with alignment is because we do not want to cause injury. The connective tissues, ligaments and muscles need to move and stretch correctly, but muscle memory needs to be built. Suddenly trying to force yourself into a position may cause injury and ligaments are never quite the same if they are damaged. Your teacher should offer you safer lower impact alternatives to poses if you are finding them difficult.
So Why Does It Matter?
Well, the bottom line is that alignment enables you to maximise the benefit of each yoga pose whilst minimising the risk of injury. This is another reason why we encourage beginners to take it slowly. The basic poses are not boring, or easy, they are designed to create a grounding. They are designed to create a set of building blocks that enable you to push your body further whilst remaining in alignment. This is why some yoga practises have props and they should be used to support the body, not to force it to bend or stretch in a way it doesn't want to.
Listen to Feedback
It can be very frustrating to be taking part in a class and have the instructor telling you you’re not correctly aligned. But please do not be disheartened. The whole point of your instructor is to help you learn yoga as it was meant to be experienced. If you can't touch your toes when you start, don't worry about it. By using correct alignment you will progress quicker than if you were to force it and get injured.