With so many yoga methods and lineages to choose from, confusion about asana alignment is common. Here, Yoga Medicine teacher Dana Diament uses smart anatomy to debunk some common alignment myths.
If you jump around between yoga teachers or lineages, confusion about asana alignment is understandable. Here, Yoga Medicine teacher Dana Diament debunks some common myths with wise anatomy.
One of my favorite things about yoga is the variety of yoga methods and lineages to choose from. But with all of those choices, you may be left feeling confused about alignment. The proliferation of yoga asana images in recent years only makes matters trickier as more and more students strive to recreate the poses exactly as they see them. Many teachers are also taught to instruct poses to textbook standards, which were not necessarily created for Western or female bodies. This dogmatic approach to alignment sets the scene for certain myths to take hold in our yoga communities about the “right” way to do a pose. To shed light on a few of these myths, let’s take a closer look at some of the key anatomical concepts behind some common yoga poses.
Myth 1: In Chaturanga, the elbows should be bent to a 90-degree angle.
Many yoga practitioners are fixated on achieving that 90-degree bend at the elbow in Chaturanga. The problem with this common cue is that when your shoulders are at or below elbow height, you’ve lost a lot of your strength in the stabilizing layers of the shoulder joint. Here, the tendency is to lay into the shoulder joint and round the shoulders. This position usually results in loss of support from the core and legs as well as the efficiency of the triceps. It also increases pressure on the biceps tendon, the rotator cuff muscles, and the deeper structures of the joint like the labrum and joint capsule.
Instead, the key is to bend your elbows only to the point where you can maintain strength in your arms, shoulders, legs, and core. This can very well mean that the angle in your elbows will be greater than 90 degrees. Test it out by doing a strength test in your Chaturanga: After you bend your elbows, you should feel strong and supported. If you fail the test, don’t despair. Simply drop your knees and lower down only to the point where you can maintain your strength.