I believe in the utility of alignment-based yoga for all students. As a physical practice, focusing on specifics of alignment allows students to learn essential biomechanical relationships of their bodies, provides a framework for more safely cultivating flexibility (while maintaining and emphasizing joint stability), and develops skill in muscular engagement that trains fundamental full-body strength.
Beginning students benefit from the slower pace of classes, which affords the time to understand postures’ basic shapes and relationships. More advanced students are able to add further refinement to movements and build on fundamental capabilities to access more challenging postures and build a toolkit to moderate physical, psychological, and spiritual challenges.
A practice with longer holds with careful alignment offers the chance to retrain problematic habits. Students with injuries can rebuild strength in areas necessary for rehabilitation and in some cases work on developing coordinated engagement to accomplish kinesiological workarounds (with an appropriately-informed teacher, or in conjunction with physical therapy).
Students interested in participating in faster-paced flow classes typically benefit from studying alignment either before beginning or concurrently with vinyasa classes. Careful study of alignment will provide a framework for accessing the postures, even quickly as in a flow class, more safely, and can clarify a student’s limits before they are challenged.
As a spiritual practice, at a basic level, emphasizing alignment is a type of mindfulness. We endeavor to spread our awareness into the entirety of our bodies, accessing the intelligence of the body, moderating the energetic body, and using attention to minutiae to cultivate present-moment awareness.
In the Bay Area, we are lucky to have access to a plethora of superb alignment teachers. The yoga taught in the lineage of B.K.S. Iyengar (“Iyengar yoga”) is entirely alignment-based, so students are able to take any class labeled “Iyengar” with confidence in the teacher’s training and style of teaching. The Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco and Adeline Yoga in Berkeley are excellent options. There are excellent teachers who teach alignment-based classes outside of the Iyengar lineage as well; look for classes labeled “hatha” or, even better, “hatha align.” There is more variability in these classes, but studios and gyms often use “hatha” to contrast with “vinyasa.”