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Alignment Yoga explained

"Press the ball of your right big toe a little harder into the mat and stretch from the inner edge of your shoulder blade to your pinky finger. Can you feel the difference? Pay attention to your breathing, don't tense up."

If you hear such instructions from the yoga teacher and are left a little longer in each exercise, plus there are yoga materials such as yoga blocks, yoga straps, yoga bolsters and yoga chairs in the room, you have almost certainly landed in an Alignment based Hatha Yoga class (Alignment Yoga for short).

Are you wondering what Alignmet Yoga is exactly? What is the difference to "normal" Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Flow Yoga or Iyengar Yoga? These questions and more, I answer in this blog article. 

Demonstrating yoga exercises is not the same as teaching yoga.

Participants:inside an Alignment Yoga class are focused and trying to follow the instructions and feel the effect. They are used to the teachers of an Alignment Yoga class moving around the room and correcting the participants and aligning them correctly. This is important because it protects them from misalignment and wear and tear on their joints.

Alignment yoga teachers don't just stand in front of a group and do a gymnastics routine and everyone follows suit as best they can, whether the joints are positioned correctly or not. Alignment means alignment and that is what our yoga studio in Zurich is all about, the correct anatomical alignment of your body in the yoga postures.

In Alignment Yoga we make sure that your joints are positioned correctly and correct you accordingly so that you don't hurt yourself. We use yoga aids so that you are properly aligned (alignment), you work on your concentration and mindfulness. After class you will feel relaxed and liberated in body and mind.

Clear instructions and directions promote mindfulness in Alignment Yoga.

Detailed instructions are there to keep you from hurting yourself and to train your mindfulness. Yoga is not just physical exercise. Yoga is also a training of the spirit; the mind and should bring us to a state of calmness.

Many find it difficult to sit and meditate because the mind is so erratic and thoughts swirl wildly in the head. In Alignment Yoga, you enhance your concentration and awareness - two key elements of meditation practice! You don't just sit still, you practice these two elements while doing the yoga exercises.

Difference between Flow Yoga and Alignment Yoga

Unlike flow yoga, where you move quickly between postures and work without yoga aids, with us you take the yoga postures slowly and with mindfulness, hold the postures longer than in flow yoga and use yoga aids. This requires strength, stretching and balance at the same time and also has a positive effect on your fascia system. It also improves your concentration and body awareness. 

In this yoga style you also reduce the risk of yoga injuries. If you want to know more about yoga injuries, you can find it in the separate blog article: WHAT YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY KNOW ABOUT YOGA INJURIES AS A YOGA TEACHER.

Which is better flow yoga or alignment yoga?

Of course, this is also an individual preference. Many yoga teachers:in who teach flow yoga originally come from ballet or dance backgrounds and choreograph their classes beautifully accordingly. Many like flow yoga because it has an almost dance-like feel and is a good work-out or you can really work up a sweat.

However, if you bring physical weaknesses to the yoga class and don't already have a certain basic flexibility, you have to be very careful that your joints are positioned correctly in the yoga postures and that you don't get any injuries.

What is finally better, the participants decide for themselves. Correct alignment is an absolute must, especially in flow yoga. The faster the flow, the harder it is to stay correctly aligned. If you want to get a good basic knowledge about correct alignment, we recommend you to take our Alignment Yoga Basic Course. It is an online course (in German though). There you will learn how to avoid yoga injuries. 

What are the benefits of yoga props?

A typical feature of an Alignment Yoga class are the yoga props. They are used when the classical form of yoga posture cannot be assumed safely. For example, many participants have shortened thigh muscles or tension in the neck or problems in the back, shoulders or knees. This is not a reason not to start yoga, but these weak areas must be properly engaged and respected during the class to avoid injury.

Yoga props serve as an extension of the body and should be used generously, especially if you want to practice yoga long term. False ambition in yoga brings nothing but injuries. The goal of yoga practice is not flexibility, that comes as a by-product, so to speak, over the years.

Our yoga studio in Zurich is full of props, we even have a special yoga wall - almost a yoga workshop!

Experience the language of the heart through Yoga or Work-Out vs. Work-In

It's impossible to imagine yoga props for the restorative, heart-opening yoga postures without them, because this is where the magic happens, where you can make contact with your innermost self during the class. We call this the language of the heart.

This is not the effect of a work-out like jogging, but, as our yoga teacher Father Joe Pereirea so beautifully puts it, but the effect of a work-in. This work-in brings you into a form of inner peace. This style of yoga also makes you sweat; but the goal is never the work-out but the work-in, and this in a framework that avoids yoga injuries through correct instructions, teacher corrections and yoga aids.

Is Alignment Yoga the same as Iyengar Yoga?

Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar was the yoga master who first introduced yoga aids. He recognized that not everyone's body is equally flexible and it is necessary for certain people to work with assistive devices. He also pioneered classical yoga therapy. Alignment also plays a central role in this style of yoga.

Whereas in Iyengar Yoga, the alignment is focused on the asana - the goal is for the yoga pose to come close to the ideal and thus one makes a deeper sensation; the classical Hatha Yoga approach.

In Alignment Yoga however, the individual anatomy of each participant is addressed and taken into consideration. The goal is not the perfect yoga posture, but that it is optimal for the body of the individual participant. This is what we teach our participants in our Alignment Based Hatha Yoga Teacher Trainings. 

The western yoga world owes a lot to B.K.S. Iyengar, including us. He was definitely one of the most formative minds in yoga and a gift to so many yoga practitioners!

Some earlier Iyengar yoga teachers found the system and structure a bit too rigid and wanted to integrate elements of mediation and philosophy and now call themselves Alignment Yoga teachers.

Alignment Yoga classes in our Yoga Studio in Zurich rest on the following pillars:

Physical - we bring harmony to your body through anatomically correct aligned yoga postures, taking into account your individual weak points.

Mental - through the clear and comprehensible instructions as well as by holding the yoga postures, you train your concentration and your mindfulness, which brings mental peace.

Emotional - we work on your psyche through regenerating, heart-opening yoga postures, which brings emotional peace.

Spiritual - the combination of all pillars will let you experience that you are more than just a physical body.