By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
To help Yoga students with alignment in standing poses, it is important first to understand the foundational principles of alignment. Once you understand the foundation, you can start troubleshooting and correcting common alignment mistakes. The foundation of alignment in any standing yoga pose starts with the feet. The feet should be rooted into the ground, with even weight distribution throughout both feet. From the feet, please focus on the knees, ensuring they are tracking in line with the middle toes. The hips should be level, with the tailbone lengthened toward the floor.
Traveling Up The Body
The next area of focus is the spine. The spine should be tall and as straight as possible, without any rounding in the upper back or excessive arching in the lower back. The shoulders should be pulled back and down away from the ears, and the chin should be parallel to the floor. Finally, the arms should be extended to either side with the palms facing down. The elbows should be soft, and there should be no tension in the shoulders. If you see students desiring alignment assistance in their standing yoga poses, you can make a few corrections. For example, if a student is rounding through their upper back, place your hands on their low back and encourage them to lengthen their spine.
How Do I Keep My Students Safe?
During Yoga teacher training, interns commonly ask similar questions. Remember a few key things when correcting your students in standing yoga postures.
1. When demonstrating, ensure you have a good foundation before trying to adjust someone else. It’s important to be able to properly execute the pose yourself so that you can demonstrate the correct alignment and provide safe and effective hands-on adjustments.
2. Pay attention to your student’s breath. Holding their breath may indicate that they struggle with posture and cannot safely hold the adjustment.
3. When possible, have your student transition into the posture before adjusting. This will help ensure that they don’t lose their balance mid-adjustment.
4. Finally, give your student clear and concise instructions on how to execute the adjustment safely. It could lead to injury if they are unsure of what to do.
Where Should Yoga Teachers Look?
One role of a Yoga teacher is to observe students practicing their poses and help them make corrections when needed. The teacher must be able to quickly spot alignments that may cause injury, produce discomfort, or prevent the Yoga student from experiencing the pose’s intention. Yoga instructors should especially monitor students who are practicing any standing posture because there is a greater likelihood that students might fall or distribute their weight in such a way that could be dangerous. Below are some details that Yoga instructors should look for in standing postures.
Make sure the student comfortably balances while practicing the pose. If this is not the case, the student can become steady by lowering a raised foot or knee to the mat. The Yoga teacher should be aware that adjusting the student physically in a balancing asana can cause the student to lose his or her balance altogether. Verbal guidance regarding focal points, calm breathing, and mentally avoiding self-criticism can greatly help Yoga students.
Yoga students should have enough muscle strength to remain steady in the pose. If the student appears weak or tired, he or she can alleviate overburdened muscles by coming out of the pose or by placing a raised foot or knee on the ground. Standing postures are excellent for building strength; however, students must work within their means and strengthen muscles over time. If a student is shaking, they are at the limits of their strength. Teachers must balance between helping students build strength and pushing them too far.
Alignment Starts at the Feet
When Yoga students practice standing poses, it is important to keep the feet properly aligned in order to avoid injury and ensure correct posture. The most common alignment problem is when the feet are turned in or out too far, which can cause pain in the knees and ankles. To correct this, students turn their feet so that they feel comfortable. The ankles should not rock in or out. New students are safer in standing poses when their feet are level and rooted. Invest time in teaching rooting as this builds a strong foundation. Teach students to be aware of foot and knee comfort. Nothing we teach is about enduring pain.
The front knee stacks over the ankle in lunging poses, such as Warrior 1 and Crescent Warrior. Students often turn the front knee inward or push it ahead of the ankle. Yoga teachers can effectively support their students manually or verbally, explaining the correct alignment.
In standing postures, the hip points are usually either parallel, facing forward, or open to the side. Students often open their hips while practicing “parallel hip” postures, such as Warrior 2, Warrior 3, and Dancer’s pose. Yoga instructors can help students maintain the integrity and purpose of the posture by watching hip alignment and providing physical, verbal, or visual adjustments when needed.
Standing poses present terrific opportunities to improve spinal alignment. Students can practice lengthening and extending their spines, which can help reverse chronic slouching and rounded shoulders. Often, a Yoga teacher can prompt a student to lengthen his or her spine by simply placing a palm on the spine and reminding them to stand up straight.
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