Understanding the Foundations of Yoga

When I first started to practice yoga, nearly all postures felt difficult and I couldn’t shake the feeling of not quite being in the right place. Eventually, I found a teacher who could help me understand the foundations of yoga and how to translate them into my body given its current limitations, such as tight hamstrings.

What are the Foundations of Yoga?

  1. Alignment: This refers to how the body is positioned in space. Consider how we stack our bones in a way that supports our body weight. Think about a plank pose; by stacking shoulders over wrists, the weight of the torso is supported by the arm bones and less muscular effort is required from the core and shoulder muscles. This makes the posture feel easier to maintain right away.

  2. Breath: Finding a way to breathe comfortably in postures is key to make them feel more comfortable. Also consider how you can use the breath to move in and out of postures with greater ease. For example, on an inhale the diaphragm moves downwards as the lungs expand and the chest lifts. Use this natural lift or extension to move into shapes that require this extension; such as ardha-uttanasana (half-lift). On the exhale breath, the belly muscles start to engage as we release air from the lungs. Use the exhale breath to move more deeply into postures that require the contraction of the abdominal muscles.

  3. Muscular Actions: Understanding which muscles are contracting and which muscles are relaxing is key for finding the right amount of effort. Working too hard in postures can sometimes hold us back from moving into them more fully. Think of yourself in a high lunge. This posture is supported mainly by the leg muscles working and the core muscles supporting the torso. If we spend our energy on tensing our shoulder, neck and face muscles exessively, the posture will feel more difficult. Chances are, there won’t be enough energy left over to actively draw the legs together and allow the hips to sink more deeply into the posture.

The foundations of yoga are keys to deepening the practice safely. Once understood and translated into the body, the foundations allow for moving into unfamiliar or unexpected postures with ease. Check out my upcoming Yoga Foundations and Basics Course and watch your practice develop and flourish from the foundations of practice.