Yoga at Home Alignment Guide

Published on May 28, 2020

In light of the current global pandemic, practicing yoga at home has become more accessible than ever. Teachers everywhere are leading live classes via Zoom and Instagram Live and there’s plenty of pre-recorded classes you can do anytime. Plus, there’s always the Ashtanga Series for those looking for a tried and tested system that does not require a live teacher every day. Even once studios reopen, there will be days when you can’t make it, and a home practice will help you progress by leaps and bounds. 

A big question home practitioners have is, “Am I doing this right?!” Here’s a general guide to alignment that will help you practice correctly and safely. 

Yoga Alignment Guide

General tips

  • Build alignment from the ground upwards. In standing poses, this means starting with the feet. In hand and arm balances, it means starting with the hands. Like building a house, you must start with a strong foundation. Think, “Root to rise!”
  • Move and adjust with the breath. You are far less likely to go beyond your safe limit if you let the breath lead you. Typically, the breath will become constricted if you’ve moved beyond your body’s ability.
  • Don’t compare yourself, even to yourself. Some days you’ll feel like you nailed a pose and the next day you might not get close. It’s normal and part of the journey.

Feet

  • Spread toes and lay them lightly on the mat. Avoid gripping or tensing them.
  • Ground evenly through the 4 corners of each foot. The 4 corners are 
    • (1 & 2) the heel, consider the width of the heel and imagine two equidistant points.
    • (3) the outer edge of the front pad (on the little toe side)
    • (4) the inner edge of the front pad (on the big toe side)
  • Maintain the natural arch of the inner foot between the front pad and heel. Avoid letting the foot roll in or out. 
  • Pay extra attention in poses where either or both feet are not pointing straight forwards, like Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose) or Virabhadrasana (Warriors I and II). Root towards the outer edge/blade of the foot to prevent the inner arch collapsing.

Knees

Photo by Elly Fairytale from Pexels
  • Remember your knees are a hinge joint, not a ball and socket. Take care not to twist or torque them. Especially for any pose that requires padmasana (half or full lotus), imagine that the hamstrings and calf muscles are glued together and move them accordingly.
  • Point each knee towards the middle toe of the same foot. 
  • Pay extra attention in poses where: 
    • One or both knees are bent, like Utkatasana (Chair Pose) or Virabhadrasana (Warriors I and II). In these poses, knees have a habit of spilling inwards or rotating outwards so track the knee over the middle toe.
    • The feet are pointing in different directions, like Trikonasana (Triangle Pose). Align each knee with its corresponding middle toe. Activate your thigh muscles to keep your kneecaps lifted.

Tailbone

  • Lengthen the tailbone directly away from the waist. Avoid flaring the tailbone behind you or arching the lower back. 
  • Pay extra attention in poses where the pelvis wants to tip forward, like Utkatasana (Chair Pose) or Paschimottanasana (Forward Fold), and keep a posterior tilt rather than an anterior tilt to the pelvis. In regular English, that means: round the lower back to avoid overstretching the hamstrings. This may feel like you’re doing less but you’ll work into the belly of the muscle rather than overextending the tendons.

Rib cage & chest


  • Knit the lower ribs together to prevent them from flaring open and constricting the back rib cage.
  • Pay extra attention in poses where one or both arms are raised, like Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) when it can be tempting to flare the ribs as the arm(s) go overhead. Plug the lower ribs down and activate the lats (muscles running down the back corner of the ribcage) to lift the arm(s) without flaring the ribcage.
  • Plug the lowest ribs downwards as you lift the chest bone skywards to create length in the rib cage and room to breathe.
  • Broaden across the chest while also broadening across the upper back (between the shoulder tips) to prevent the chest from puffing out, in all forward folds, like Janu Sirsasana A (Head to Knee Pose).

Shoulders 

  • Draw the shoulders into their sockets, creating space between the shoulders and ears. Think about continuously pulling the scapulas downward by using the serratus anterior muscles.
  • Pay extra attention in poses where your arms reach overhead, like Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog), where it can be tempting to lift the shoul
  • Keep the shoulders looping down into their sockets rather than squeezing back and together, especially in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog).
  • Consider two rules: when the arms are above the shoulders, there’s external rotation; arms below the shoulders, rotate the shoulders inward. 

Wrists & hands

  • Press into the index knuckle, thumb, and the inner pad of the hand in poses where the hands are bearing weight, like Chaturanga or Handstand, to prevent wrist injuries.
  • Energize all the way to the tips of the fingers in standing poses, like Utthita Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), rather than letting the hands go limp.  

Neck, chin & head

  • Maintain awareness of the incredible length of the spine extending through the back of the neck and finishing at the base of the skull. Whenever you lengthen the spine, elongate the back of the neck right up until the base of the skull.
  • Pay extra attention in poses where the chin is meant to be lifted and facing forward, like Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose) or Marichyasana (Sage of Marichi Pose). Elongate the back of the neck to avoid dropping the head back onto the upper back, and pull the shoulders away from the ears.
  • Lift through the back edge of the crown, rather than the front, to keep maintain length at the back of the neck
  • Release the jaw and lift the chin up and back to the very upper neck (yes, it will feel like you’re making a double chin) to allow the jaw muscles to relax and soften.

Rather than trying to remember all of these cues at once, focus on one area of the body each day or each week. Bring your attention and awareness into each pose, and make small adjustments until you fine-tune the alignment. Like all things in yoga, alignment is a work in progress. Enjoy the journey!