What is Bhakti Alignment?

harmoniumOne of my teachers is fond of saying that yoga is not like other physical pursuits. You cannot come at the practice of asana with sheer will and brute force. I have learned this lesson like I have chosen to learn most lessons in my life: the hard way. When I committed to a daily asana practice years ago, my practice began as a means to tame my mind and body. I approached the practice in my habitual manor, with a competitive spirit and dogged work ethic. Day in and day out I showed up to the mat striving to attain pose after pose, examining my parts and pieces for what needed fixing. I was committed and I worked hard.

Then a funny thing started to happen. Slowly, piece by piece, I began injuring myself. First a hamstring tear, then a shoulder subluxation, sore wrists, achy knees, then a groin pull finally culminating in chronic sacroiliac instability. Rather than getting ahead it seemed the more I practiced, the more I was falling apart. What I was practicing was neither sustainable nor sustaining. Something had to change.

I began gravitating to an alignment based practice, seeking out teachers who understood the body. With a change in perspective, I also began to see my injuries as teachers. Each injury led me to study and engage directly with the anamaya kosha, or physical body. I came to understand that I needed more specific blueprints for how to build an asana, or shape. I must go back and begin again with greater focus and attention to detail. I feel deeply indebted to the teachers who shared their experience and knowledge of anatomy and have helped me put my pelvis back together. In the process of aligning my physical body, I have observed that alignment can and does work from the outside in. As I am learning to align my grossest layers, mainly bones and muscles, I can feel a shift in the more subtle layers. My breath and energy are free to move when I am not in pain. I shift my attention away from never-ending problem solving mode, and begin to focus on following the blueprint, surrendering trust to a system. I have felt my understanding of my own form, or rupa shift from an object that needs fixing to an object worthy of attention and care taking.

But this is only half of the story. I am also a Bhakti Yogini. The first time I heard live mantra sungs in a yoga class something moved in my heart in a way that I had never before experienced. I’ve found singing mantra to be a direct line to my pranamaya kosha, or energy and emotional body. Throughout my struggle with injury I’ve found myself singing more. While chanting, the perfectionist faculty in my mind can be still and I am free to feel just be. While in song, there is nothing that needs fixing.

Recently I’ve been studying Narada’s Bhakti Sutras. I’ve learned that the rupa, or form of Bhakti is parama prema, which means supreme love and that Bhakti’s true essence, or swarupa is amrta, or life sustaining nectar. The true nature of Bhakti yoga is loving and nourishing sweetness.

I have experienced this to be true in my asana practice. When I relate to my body as a problem to be fixed or something unruly to be tamed afterwards I hurt. When I relate to my body sweetly, as an object worthy of attention and maitri or loving kindness, afterwards I feel good. When I come to the mat with the intention to align each shape from within with Bhakti, I leave my mat feeling refreshed and nourished. In this way it also holds true that alignment works from the inside out.

Bhakti Alignment is my practice and this is what I have to share as a fellow student of yoga. I hope to guide students to align from the outside in with anatomically skillful alignment cues and from the inside out with the spirit of Sweet Bhakti. Maybe in the process we will discover that this is one and the same.