The Importance of Body Alignment in Yoga and Tango

Originally written by Zara M on  31 January 2014

I learnt a valuable lesson this week. It really is true that you get more out of something when you put more into it; and in order to reach the top of any mountain and enjoy that vast view it has to offer, first you have to climb it.

I came out of the Yoga4Tango class last Sunday feeling completely blissed out. When I have a small gap in between my yoga practices I tend to come back to the class feeling more eager, open-minded and relaxed, and so I feel that I enjoy myself more, perhaps because I have less mental resistance. I have often wondered why I also enjoy dancing Tango more when I am not attending Tango classes on a regular basis. In fact I often feel like I dance better when I have not been practicing. But surely this can’t be the case when they say that practice makes perfect? Am I an exception to the rule? As much as I’d like to think I am, it certainly isn’t the case.

After reading an interesting article this week on Tangofolly by Veronica Toumanova titled, Why We Suffer When Learning TangoI now understand what is going on. It is not that I dance better when I don’t practice; it is just easier and more pleasurable because I am not paying attention to my flaws. I am therefore less conscious of improvement, because I am becoming more and more settled into my bad habits. If you want to get the most out of anything though, you need to be in the ‘Improvement mindset’, otherwise you are simply reinforcing everything you are doing wrong and limiting the level of enjoyment and fulfillment you could be achieving. I suppose it boils down to what sort of person you are – Are you the sort of person who will stop half way up the mountain and enjoy the view from there, or will you push past your boundaries, face your fears and keep climbing to the top to enjoy the full 360 degree view you deserve?

We explored this idea too in the Yoga4Tango class on Sunday when we focused our understanding and attention on body alignment. The instructor explained that when we do not align our bodies correctly we make things more difficult for ourselves because then other parts of the body have to work harder to compensate and support the body in the pose; this is when we feel the struggle.

A telltale sign that you haven’t got your body alignment right is when you find that you can’t maintain your smooth-flowing three-part breathing when holding a yoga pose. For me, this was a golden nugget of information, because I regularly experience broken breathing when trying to hold certain poses; and these are also the poses I find the most difficult and I struggle to maintain. Often I break the cardinal rule and I stop breathing altogether because I find the broken breathing distracting. Apparently there should be no such struggle if you have taken the time and attention to align your body properly as you move into a pose, and the sequence should flow in a comfortable and stable fashion. It should feel natural, because your body is simply doing what it is capable of doing, no more and no less; which is why it is always important to be aware of your own pace, and do what feels right for you as an individual.

I was inspired by the image the instructor gave us of a skinny woman being able to hold certain poses for a long time without struggle, even when adorned with weights on either side, because it is not all about strength or muscle, it is about balance, even weight distribution, and getting the alignment right. Another visual example given was that of building blocks; when you stack them up correctly so that they are aligned, they create a stable and strong structure.

Breathing in three-parts is one way we can constantly bring our attention to the various sections of our core, which we have the power to lengthen and twist. It also helps to pay attention to where we are folding our bodies when we bend over or reach forward – Are we folding from the hip crease to create balance and enable the breathing to continue unaffected? Or are we curving the back and compensating by tensing other muscles in order to maintain stability, and therefore causing struggle and tension in the pose? Can you move your breath freely up and down the full length of your torso? This is such a useful tip, and one that I hadn’t really thought about before now. I always knew that it was important to keep breathing throughout the sequence so that you can move more deeply into poses, but I have never thought about monitoring broken breathing for signs that my body is misaligned because my breath can’t travel through it smoothly. I’m quite pleased with this discovery!

I also came to a better understanding of why I often struggle with my posture in everyday life when standing up straight. I have always thought that my poor posture was due to me being hunched over my laptop all day long; but something the instructor said in the class expanded my understanding of how the body behaves. When I stand up, I have noticed that I naturally stand with my hips slightly forward which results in a slumped back and hunched shoulders. This feels more natural and comfortable to me because it is a bad habit that I have created, which is caused by compensation in my body due to the misalignment and imbalance in the distribution of my body weight.

The instructor stood up in front of the class and demonstrated that when he does not stack up the ‘blocks’ of his body correctly, then his balance is compromised. When this happens we compensate by pushing our hips forwards. I recognized the flaw in his posture as it changed immediately, because it resembled my own; so I was very interested to learn that if I pay more attention to aligning my body correctly so that I am supporting myself better, then I won’t have to compromise for balance by standing with my hips forward, which will help to improve my posture overall. Of course this is bad habit that will take time to relearn.

Veronica Toumanova expresses in her article that “when learning a new movement or a new way of doing something, you will go through four phases: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence.” When I do not go to Tango lessons and when I miss yoga classes and come back feeling content and happy with my performance I am in a state of “unconscious incompetence” – I am comfortable. When I take the classes regularly, I lose this pleasure because I become conscious of my incompetence. This is just the part where I am climbing the mountain and feeling the burn though. Do I want to stop, give up, and always remain at that same level? Or shall I challenge myself to carry on to the top? Maybe I will just take one of my trusty yoga resting poses first, gather my energy and clear my mind, and then carry on. It is time to start taking all of this seriously. We are always capable of more, so let’s put our best foot forward.

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