(Riveting conversations, I know.)
Particularly, we were talking about giving alignment cues, and how -- like anything else in yoga -- there is a gradient. A scale.
On one end of that scale, you got your extremely-alignment-focused styles. Your Iyengar-based yoga, where you could spend a solid minute in a pose, talking about all the micro-adjustments needed to be *perfectly* in the pose.
Then, on the other end, you find the more free-form styles. Strala yoga is a great example, where it's more open-ended, more somatic & subjective -- what feels good to you? What's YOUR alignment?
I naturally gravitate towards THAT end. I go by the Leslie Kaminoff attitude of, "Poses don't have alignment. PEOPLE do."
Now, don’t get me wrong: I do have alignment cues, and some of them I am hard-and-fast on. “Here are things to do so you don't blow out your knees, don't blow out your shoulders. Lengthen your back before you twist. Secure your foundation before you balance.” And so on, and so on.
Those who take my classes know how insane I am about vinyasa flows that won't result in unstable shoulders/blown rotator cuffs, or transitions that involve deliberate muscle movement over use of momentum.
…but then (but then!): I get into a little of "if"s and "maybe"s.
I go free-form. I introduce a little anarchy.
And I was thinking about the pitfalls of that type of teaching. How people could potentially get injured because class might have that element of anarchy. How it might be akin to setting someone off into an unknown city without a travel guide or even a map. For a brief moment, it made me doubt that somatic, subjective approach.
But then I realized something: the reason free-form styles can be dangerous is the same reason alignment-based styles can be dangerous.
And it all comes down to body awareness – or lack thereof.
If you don't know what your body is telling you, then how in the world will you know what works and what doesn't?
Without going into an extremely dry, modern yoga history lesson, a LOT of the modern poses were created with a certain body type in mind (namely military-age boys), and certain "fathers of modern yoga" were criticized by their predecessors for teaching those exact same alignment cues to other body types.
What happens if a teacher tells you to go into Warrior 1, and you put this foot like this, put that foot like that, and then you gotta get your hips squared towards the top of your mat -- and you have a bone structure that doesn't permit it?
(BTW, this is touching upon my beef with cookie-cutter Warrior 1 pose and how it essentially wages war on pelvic bone structure, but that's for another time.)
What happens if a teacher tells you that your back foot HAS to be 90* in Warrior 2, even though that causes you unhealthy rotation and strain in your back knee?
What happens if you rely on the teacher to tell you what works in your body, to the direct exclusion of what your body is actually telling you?
Likewise, what happens if the teacher lets you go free-form in a twist, and you swing your legs to the side and realize far too late that such an intense twist really stinkin' hurts?
What happens if you gloss over the free-form teacher's "if…"s and follow her move for move?
Maybe nothing, but maybe a lot of things.
And that's what BOTH styles are trying to teach you: body awareness. Whether it's through an infinite checklist of the pose’s minutiae, or through going into something akin to modern dance, the end result is the same: can you get back into your body, and stop seeing the mind & the body as two separate entities?
Also: can you fricken BREATHE? Can you remember to fricken BREATHE?
And then the rest is up to personal preference: Whether you're a Type A and adore the perfectionism (or a Type B and want to be taken out of your comfort zone) -- or you're Type B and adore doing your own thing without structure (or, likewise, a Type A and want to be taken out of your comfort zone).
And that's kind of the beauty of yoga. What does it take to unite what has been severed? What does it take to bring together what’s been separated? What does it take to feel a little more resilient in the mind, body, and spirit? Everyone will have a different answer.