Before I did my yoga teacher training (YTT) with Yogaworks, I had taken numerous yoga classes from instructors all over the world, so I thought I well understood the basic concepts. One thing I noticed was that some teachers taught certain poses differently. So I would go home confused, not knowing which version of the pose was the proper one. Here are a few small, but super important details about yoga poses and alignments that I learned from YTT. I believe this information can be very helpful to my fellow yogis and yoginis.
1. Weight distribution of feet
In the bent knee standing poses, such as Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2), Utkatasana (chair pose), or Virabhadrasana 1 (warrior 1), when your front knee is bent, the weight on your front foot should be on your heels. This action will activate the hamstring and take some pressure off the knee joint.
In straight leg standing poses such as Trikonasana (triangle pose), Uttanasana (forward fold) or Parsvottanasana (intense side stretch pose), you need to focus putting your weight down on the mount of the big toe. This will help prevent your front knee from hyper-extending.
2. Feet width
In Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2), Trikonasana (triangle pose), Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle pose) or Parivritta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose), your front leg is externally rotating from your hip socket. In this case, you want your front heel to be in line with your back foot’s arch.
On poses such as Virabhadrasana 1 (warrior 1) or Parsvottanasana (intense side stretch pose), you are ‘trying’ to keep your hip squared. In this case, you want a slightly wider stance compare to the above examples. You are aiming for front heel to back heel alignment. If you are having a hard time finding your balance, it is totally acceptable for someone with tight hips, or pregnant women, to align their feet a bit wider than the usual heel-to-heel alignment.
In the case of poses where you are trying to ‘square’ the hip, you would want to take a slightly wider stance. Imagine you are doing Virabhadrasana on top of a slack line. It will be hard to balance, but also it will be harder to try to square your hip to the front. Now imagine you are doing Virabhadrasana 1 on a slack line that is twice as wide, it will be much easier to balance, plus easier to square your hips to the front, because you have a wider stance.
3. Tracking knee over second toe
Whenever we are doing standing poses with the front knee bent, such as virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2 pose), utthita parsvakonasana (side angle pose), you want the bent knee to be tracking the second toe. There is a danger to your knee joint when your front bent knee buckles inward, such as when you look down and you can’t see your big toe. To keep your knee bent in a healthy alignment, you want your front bent knee to track the second toe of your front foot. On virabhadrasana 2 when you try to press your tailbone down, the front knee tends to buckle inward and we want to avoid that.
4. The external rotation of arms
The external rotation of your arms is a very important component that contributes to healthy alignment in many yoga poses. For example, when you extend your arms over your head in Tadasana (mountain pose), you often hear your teacher say “palms face each other” or “palms touch over your head”, this is said to encourage students to externally rotate their arms. The same concept is applied in many other yoga poses.
Lets talk about Adho Mukha Svanasana or AMS for short (downward facing dog). This is a tricky pose on many levels and I am only going to touch on the arms. Even in AMS you want your ‘upper arms’ to be in external rotation. So you want to rotate your bicep out as you rotate the triceps in towards your ears to encourage this rotation. When your upper arm is externally rotated it stabilizes the rotator cuff in the shoulder socket to a healthier, more natural position. By doing this, you are less likely to have shoulder injuries or pain.
I say ‘upper’ arms instead of your whole arm because the lower half of your arm in AMS, wants the opposite rotation. You want to rotate your forearms internally. This is because when you palms are on the mat in AMS, you want to distribute your weight on your palms, ESPECIALLY on the mount of your index fingers and thumbs. This concept is useful with other poses, such as plank, Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose), Pincha Mayurasana (forearm balance) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand).
Many people who practice yoga eventually develop wrist pain. This is due to putting more weight on the outer edge of the palms in the poses listed above. To avoid wrist injuries, you want to focus putting your weight on the inner palms (mount of index fingers and thumbs). Your wrists are not made to put so much weight on the outer side (side of pinky fingers), because your wrists’ true joint is located on the inner side, (the side of your thumbs). This side allows for more motion compare to the pinky side. Yet many people tend to put most of the weight on the their outer wrists, and that's where wrist pain evolves over time. To prevent this you will want to push down with the mount of your thumb and index fingers whenever you are doing any arm balance poses (crow, handstand, plank, downward facing dog).
When you are doing AMS, focus on externally rotating your upper arms but internally rotating the forearms and palms. So your upper arms and lower arms are rotating in the opposite direction. I like to imagine squeezing a wet towel with your hands. You twist it in opposite direction to squeeze the water out. This same idea should be held in mind for your arm rotation while you are doing AMS.
I hope these tips will help you achieve better yogic alignments in your next yoga class!