The Standard Alignment Model of Modern Postural Yoga
Today, there are dozens of styles of yoga worldwide, yet the vast majority of all yoga systems ascribe to the same general model of asana alignment. Despite the increasing diversity of yoga styles, there is consistent consensus on the general model of asana alignment within modern postural yoga. The present standard model of alignment derives from only a few 20th century Indian hatha yoga masters - Krishnamacharya, Iyengar, Jois, Desikachar, Sivananda, Choudhury, and Mitra. All of these teachers held the fundamental alignment idea that the spine is properly lengthened by drawing the tailbone down and extending the back of the neck upward. This standard model of aligment in yoga today is based on a linear template of stacking the body as a compressive structure against gravity. The two ends of the spine are pulled in opposite directions in order to make the central channel of energy in the body, the sushumna, longer and straighter so that the vital force can optimally flow without obstruction.
The general postural alignment within today’s hatha yoga is further defined by the practice of energy ‘locks’ or bandhas, which are the speculative modern interpretations of medieval Tantrik practices used for controlling life force in the body. The bandhas are technical manipulations of the energy channels of the body to raise the vital force up the central channel from the root of the pelvis to the crown of the head for the attainment of supernatural powers and spiritual enlightenment. Modern postural yoga’s interpretative form of the three key bandhas of the body is an overall intense contraction of the front of the body at the pelvic floor, abdomen, and throat. The spine is pulled straight to align with the vertical sushumna to make the most direct and efficient channel between root and crown.
The linear model of modern postural yoga is so different than the curvy form of the Bowspring that we have heard from many hatha 'yogis' who proclaim that Bowspring is definitely NOT yoga! Some modern yogis argue that since the form of the asanas including the bandhas are so ancient, the alignment must be correct since the practice of hatha yoga has stood the test of time for so long. Yet, how do we know that the postural forms that are practiced today are performed with the same alignment as in ancient times? There are no written detailed descriptions of the practice of asana or bandhas until the 20th century. The only ancient hatha yoga texts that we know of today were written in terse aphroristic verses which only give a very general description of the classical asanas and bandhas. All the specific techniques for the esoteric practice of hatha yoga were transmitted orally from teacher to student for centuries. In fact, despite the lack of detailed asana instruction in writing prior to modern times, there is still broad agreement within the current yoga industry that the classical poses and bandhas closely resemble the original forms.
Not only is there agreement among today's yoga teachers about the general alignment of classical poses, there is overall consensus in modern postural yoga about what constitutes "good alignment" in asana.
Some of the common alignments within the MPY model include:
lifting and spreading the toes, and grounding down through the heels evenly.
drawing the shoulders back and down.
pressing the upper back inward to lengthen the spine and 'open' the chest.
stretching and lengthening the back of the neck towards straight.
spreading the palms and fingers wide and open as much as possible.
lengthening the lower back by drawing the hips downward.
contracting the front of the belly to ‘stabilize the core’.
One of the most common alignments within the MPY paradigm is drawing the glutes downward in an attempt to lengthen the spine, particularly in the lower back. This alignment can be beneficial at times, especially at night during relaxation and sleep. However, doing this alignment in every single pose and in all movements throughout day and night creates a pattern in the connective tissue of the butt which is downward, weak, and tight. Also with the glutes down, the lower back loses its natural lordotic curvature, and the belly and psoas tighten. Furthermore, the femurs are pushed forward in the hip sockets, which eventually wears out the cartilage of the hip joints, adding to the increasing number of hip replacements.
In the Bowspring practice, we expand the ribcage and draw the hips back and UP. The glutes actively engage upward from insertion at the bottom of the pelvis to the muscular origin at the sacrum and top of the pelvis. To create lightness and power in your whole body during any functional movement, one must lift and mound one’s glutes. No athlete jumps with a flat, drawn down butt! With a full thoracic curve, not a flat upper back as is also common in MPY, a student can draw their hips back behind the ribcage and lift the tailbone and the glutes without any compression in the lower back. Instead of crunching the lower back in the Bowspring, the waist and belly are bowed and tapered long forward and up. The length of the waist in the Bowspring is associated with a narrowing at the base of the ribcage reflecting long and strong abs.
One day soon modern yogis will start to question the source of the alignment model that they tend to hold tight to with a religious fervor. Once they try a different alignment model, like the Bowspring, and they gain freedom from their chronic musculo-skeletal pain, the deep attachment to the standard model will begin to dissolve. It is a time for a new paradigm, a time for a postural revolution!