At first, I never knew I was an alignment geek. Then, I feared I might be, and felt self-conscious. Now, I’ve found my tribe and feel proud to be so geeky!
Photos: Sarah Kekus (@the_healtharchitect)
Yoga and climbing have gone pretty much “hand in hand” for most of my life; initially, I practised yoga purely to support my climbing but over the years they’ve become completely intertwined. Both climbing and yoga have tested me (in different ways) and both have brought me face-to-face with myself. The yogic path is about self-knowledge and climbing provides opportunities for this “in spades”. But, putting the esoteric to one side, there are so many parallels when it comes to the “nuts and bolts” of alignment.
I was around thirteen when I first went climbing; it was at a dank crag, looming out of the Scottish mist. After tying in, the top rope was yanked tight, signalling I should climb! My feet slithered on the wet rock and progress seemed impossible; I felt tearful – frightened, disappointed and totally useless! Instruction had been limited to how to fit my harness and tie onto the rope. I had no idea how best to use my hands and feet, and it never occurred to me that someone could explain, so I spent the next decade trying to figure it out myself! A year or so later, my first yoga experience was similar. In a bleach-infused room, the teacher gave sketchy instructions, mostly relating to how I should feel, not how I should move!
Back then I did not know what was missing. That was until I started heading off on climbing coaching holidays and found myself totally immersed in a world of detail; focusing on tiny adjustments to hand/foot positions, memorising movement patterns so they’d be repeatable and learning that accuracy was paramount if I was to climb harder.
Over time, this detailed approach spilled into my yoga and I’d repeat Sun Salutation B, time and time again, focusing on being efficient and precise. Instinctively I started to seek teachers who taught detail and, by happy accident, I found a teacher who combined the rigorous discipline of being a professional dancer with a background in both Iyengar and Ashtanga; her yoga teaching was a creative melange of all these influences. It was a defining moment in my yoga journey and taught me not to attempt being a yoga teacher I could never be - talking in a soft voice and gently cooing “beautiful”, every few seconds regardless of sloppy asanas! Since then, I’ve found more role models – Kino, David Swenson and Claire Missingham have all influenced me and shaped my teaching.
In the last couple of years I’ve had the chance to practise and study with Simon Park and, more than anyone else, he’s helped me discover a new depth to my practise; a slower rhythm that allows for detailed precision and refined transitions. Simon is unapologetically “nit-picky” but he’s inspired me to see that taking time and being careful sends a clear signal of self-compassion. His perfectionist tendencies are in full view, plus he encourages us to teach with “eagle-eyed” vigilance. He is so infectiously enthusiastic that delving into the detail could never be seen as dull, in fact, he makes it really cool!
And, thanks to Simon, I’ve discovered trüFORMAT; yoga mats that literally “teach” you where to place your hands and feet. A mat so striated and colourful that you’d have to close your eyes to avoid its lessons in alignment!
After my second teaching immersion with Simon and having become the UKs first trüFORMAT ambassador I really feel like I’ve found my tribe of like-minded “alignment geeks” and I’ve been eager to share my enthusiasm with all my students. Every class on my timetable has been influenced but I’ve also started a new dedicated class, which I’ve called Precision Alignment. This is a smaller class, making it easier for me to support detailed alignment cues with plenty of “hands-on” adjusts and I’ve also made time for more alignment demonstrations and parodies of common alignment mistakes, which always adds some humour! I’ve also given students the chance to try practising on a trüFORMAT yoga mat.
We’ve gone right back to basics, starting off with sun salutations; taking time to get into poses is so important as well as building alignment from the mat up to ensure foundations are strong enough to support the architecture of each asana or pose. We’ve also looked at alignment families – poses where feet are parallel, at right angles or where the back foot is at a 45 degree angle. I find that when I group poses in this way students can make connections between poses for themselves. Twisting poses have been covered too as so often students forget to move their torso and just turn their head! So, we’ve looked at building the necessary torso rotation out of a strong foundation where hips and feet are correctly set up for the twist.
So far, feedback has been extremely positive from all levels of students. Precise alignment cues can be the instruction that new students have been waiting for as well as the next level of detail that intermediate students need to unlock more advanced poses. So, it looks like Precision Alignment classes are here to stay on my timetable and I’m also planning longer masterclasses and workshops so watch this space ….
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