Confessions of an Alignment Lover

by Barrie Risman

I am lover of alignment. Over the course of more than 20 years of asana practice, I have tried many different styles of hatha yoga.  While I appreciate, and am indeed grateful for the diversity of our Western yoga culture, it is the deep, refined work in the pose that truly gets me excited about my asana practice and my teaching.

One of the hallmarks of an alignment-based practice is holding poses long enough to work in them. Rather than moving from pose to pose, and holding each posture for only a breath or two, this approach allows me to penetrate the depth of each posture, working with the breath to reveal ever-more subtle levels of integration, release and opening.  Far from being static, this work engages the intellect and the sense perception in a way that is dynamic, stimulating and always interesting to me. It calls on me to be there in the pose, to be present, attentive and aware.

As a beginning student, my teachers’ alignment instructions focused my mind in a way that nothing else could. In translating the instructions into my body, there was no room to think about anything else.  In the process I was also developing more refined body awareness. I was, quite literally, bringing my mind and my attention deeper into my physical body. The result was the experience of bringing all parts of myself together to reveal the deeper inner expansion and opening available in this type of practice. At the end of class I sometimes felt my whole body pulsating with aliveness, lit up like Fourth of July fireworks. My mind was calm, centered, tranquil. I loved yoga!

I feel that perhaps my work, this type of practice, is under-represented in my local yoga community.  I recently taught in a sunrise yoga practice to celebrate the summer solstice. Of the 4 teachers who led the class, I was the only one teaching a non-flow style. To me, this was remarkable. It is easy to miss out on the diversity and depth of yoga practice. Isn’t the opportunity, even the responsibility, of any serious yoga student to explore the full range of possibility in their asana practice?


  1. I agree with you as I recently watched 11 yoga classes in a row at an event in Toronto that also celebrated Solstice. Everyone did flow and the sequences were very similar. Are we loosing sight of the reason why we became yoga instructors? No consideration for the space (cobblestone ground), or the participants as teacher after teacher practiced on stage, on the mat. No time to feel, sense or connect, the way yoga is meant to be practiced (in union, as the word yoga is translated into).
    Thank the Universe for great teachers like yourself.

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