The strong connection between intuition and alignment
Learning To Listen: The Delicate Dance Between Alignment & Intuition
Have you ever been in a yoga class where the yoga teacher asks you to position your body in a certain way, and… it just doesn’t feel right. You look around and everybody else seems fine, but somewhere deep inside of you is a little voice saying that this isn’t a place of steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha). You hesitate. You ask yourself “Am I doing this wrong?”. Surely it’s your fault, and not the yoga teacher’s. What do you do? Listen to the teacher? Or listen to your body?
When we first come to yoga, we will likely rely more on the yoga teacher’s instruction to guide us through the practice. Many poses will be unfamiliar, and we will require some directive on how to move our physical body on our mat. This is where alignment plays an important role. Alignment refers to the positioning of the body to enhance safety and stability. Without an understanding of fundamental alignment principles, we are at higher risk for injuries.
Yet, to assume that all our bodies are built in the same way and therefore require the same alignment instructions is a bit optimistic and far-fetched. Just like every tree in nature grows in its own unique way, so does every human being. Thus, alignment is important, but it should not be the end-all. In our yoga practice, external learning and observation should be balanced with tuning into our internal awareness. This is where the significance of intuition comes in.
Intuition involves listening to your body’s wisdom and responding to its signals. It encourages respecting your body’s unique design and attending to its specific needs on a given day. Following our intuition in yoga encourages us to sometimes step out of alignment, embracing variations of poses, and allowing our body to move and groove to its own rhythm rather than that instructed by the yoga teacher.
An important part of building inner attention is learning to listen to the intelligence that lives in the body. Though it may not speak in words, the body communicates loudly and clearly when we listen. As we develop our practice and become more familiar with poses, we can begin to sense what feels right and what feels ‘not so right’ for us. These differences in perspective may be due to our level of flexibility or strength, different body shapes and sizes, the current state of our nervous system, or even the phase of our moon cycle for some of us.
Whilst following instructions related to alignment might feel easier (monkey see, monkey do, right?), building our ability to move and breathe intuitively may take some more time and thus requires more patience and persistence. Some questions that can help us to start using our intuition during our yoga practice could be:
- “What does it feel like to be me today? And in what ways can I move and breathe to support myself as I am now?”
- “Can I prioritize what this pose feels like, rather than what it looks like?”
- “If I could change one thing about this pose to feel more comfortable, what would it be?”
Through asking ourselves such questions as we make our way around our yoga mat, we build a sense of playfulness and curiosity into our practice, and our sense of intuition begins to dance with the alignment principles that have been offered by the yoga teacher.
But which is more important? Alignment or intuition? The real answer to this is: it depends. While alignment might provide structure and safety, intuition honors our body’s wisdom and uniqueness. A skilled yoga teacher will empower you to utilize both instruments of alignment and intuition, by guiding you to align your body into the pose, whilst encouraging you to listen to your body’s signals as you move through your practice.
Another way of understanding this concept is by thinking of alignment as a framework, and intuition as what lives in the spaces of that framework. To build a solid yoga practice you need both, as they are not mutually exclusive. And as we continue to deepen our practice, we might find that we naturally refine our ability to intuitively align our body, resulting in a practice that is both safe and personally fulfilling.
Who is Manouk?
Manouk Tideman C-IAYT, E-RYT500 runs online and in-person specialized yoga trainings and retreats for those looking to be immersed, educated and inspired by Yoga. Her own practice began in 2006, and it has carried her through some monumental life experiences, including multiple open-heart surgeries and the unexpected passing of her father. Her life purpose is to promote the traditional teachings of Yoga in a contemporary and accessible manner. Find out more about Manouk here.