alignment yoga poses side plank
ClimbingFlex Ilustration

3 techniques to improve your alignment in yoga poses

Stefanie | September 9, 2018

“Okay, turn the big toe outward by 12°, stretch your arm down more and don’t let your body tilt to the side!” This may sound a bit exaggerated but can certainly be heard in many yoga classes in similar form. Of course, anything can be taken to an extreme. But a few basic alignment principles are important for more stability and pose integrity. Here you’ll learn three techniques that can help improve the form of your yoga poses.

Not only beginners struggle with alignment—especially when we reach a more intermediate level, we may not pay as much attention to our alignment because we feel like we know the basics already.

But small adjustments to our alignment can make a big difference.

Let’s take a quick look at the 3 techniques:

#1 Vertical and horizontal alignment

In short, the principle is:

“Strain should be distributed in a straight line.”

The straight line refers to vertical and horizontal alignment.

Let's take Plank pose as an example.

alignment in plank pose arms
Plank pose can be quite challenging, even for us climbers. Paying attention to the alignment of your shoulders and wrists is crucial for a safe practice.
alignment in yoga poses
Same here: The hands are under the shoulders and the palms of the hands are facing straight ahead.

Your feet and front leg in Warrior II

In a pose with a bent knee, such as Warrior II, the knee is aligned with the ankle (vertically) and the leg is aligned with the ankle and our hips (horizontally).

Warrior_II_Roca_Oceanica, Chile
Make sure your knee is over your ankle in Warrior II, not over your toes.

In some poses, you may be able to instinctively feel that your alignment isn’t straight and adjust your foot position accordingly.

Take the time to figure out what your ideal foot position is for a pose like Warrior II.

You’ll notice that it’s much more difficult to keep your alignment straight if your feet aren’t spaced far enough apart—the front of your hip will automatically push outwards and you’ll easily lose your balance.

Using a wall can be helpful to get a feeling for how to keep your front leg aligned correctly.

alignment wall for warrior II
A wall can help you correctly align your front leg: The foot, knee and front of the hip form a straight line.

How about your front leg in Triangle pose?

In several standing poses with a straight leg, for example in Triangle, we only have horizontal alignment: The front ankle is facing straight ahead and is in-line with the front knee and our hips.

Check out the front knee in this photo:

alignment triangle knee drops in
The front knee drops in - this is something you really want to avoid. As your center of gravity shifts, you want to make sure your front knee is straight.
alignment triangle pose knee
Before turning your upper body, check the position of your front knee. A proper preparation will give you more stability in the pose and keep your knee safe.

#2 Distributing weight evenly

Distributing your weight evenly among all parts of your body that are rooted to the ground is just as important:

In standing poses, make sure to distribute weight equally between the inner ball of the foot, outer ball of the foot and heel.

When you’re in standing poses in which the back foot is turned outward, make sure to place weight on the outer edge of the foot to stabilize the back leg.

Among other poses, this applies to Warrior I and II, Triangle and a variation of Triangle in which the front knee is bent (see picture).

The center of gravity in this pose is shifted to the front. For a stable stance, make sure that the back foot is firmly rooted to the ground—especially the outer edge of the foot.

This principle applies also to your hands and seating positions.

For instance, in Plank and Downward-Facing Dog, distribute your weight equally between both feet and your outspread hands.

alignment hands and fingers in dog pose
Spreading the fingers in Downward-Facing Dog puts less strain on the wrists.

In seated twists, both your sit bones should be firmly pressed into the ground.

You can think of all the parts of your body that are rooted to the ground as the foundation of a house. A stable foundation is the prerequisite for getting the full benefit out of any pose.

If you apply this technique, your awareness of a firm stance will increase in general—not just while you’re doing yoga.

#3 Modifying poses with props

Everyone’s body is built differently: Some people have long legs, a long torso, short arms—everyone has different proportions.

Bone structure also varies from person to person, which means you can practice as much as you’d like—at a certain point you’ve reached your limit.

That’s why not all yoga poses are right for every body-build and should be modified if needed. Blocks and straps are a valuable aid because their use can help improve the stability and integrity of a pose.

alignment wall side angle
Preparation for a side stretch along the wall: If your arm can’t quite reach the floor, a block can help as an extension. Alternative: Rest your left elbow on top of your thigh.

I personally like using blocks in the morning because I usually feel a bit stiff and take a little longer to warm up.

If you don’t have a block or strap available, you can use alternatives. A towel or thick sling makes a good alternative for a strap.

On the Petzl RocTrip 2014, we only had yoga mats for the participants, no blocks. However, Alexander and Chris had somewhat shorter arms and longer legs. A motorcycle helmet served as a great substitute block for Alexander to help stabilize his kneeling pose with an extended leg.

In summary

Make sure to pay attention to your straight alignment, vertically as well as horizontally.

A wall can help you get a feel for correct horizontal alignment. When practicing, a mirror (or alternatively a picture) is a good way to check your alignment.

Always distribute your weight equally between the parts of your body rooted to the ground.

And finally: Modify any yoga poses as needed and use props if they help you improve your stability.

Give these techniques a try and feel free to share your experiences here!

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