Alignment is a term that is well-used in Iyengar Yoga description and circles, but I am not sure that this description is doing us any favors. When people hear the word “alignment” I feel like they hear something rigid, something unmoving or static, something that remains purely on the physical plain.
But I think we have missed the point if we think that Iyengar Yoga is merely physical in nature and ONLY for alignment of the physical body. Of course, we approach asanas (postures) in a detailed fashion that definitely aims to diminish some of the bad habits that we tend to accumulate over life and time. However, more importantly, that body “alignment” is merely to engage the mind more fully in awareness and alertness and discriminative knowledge of self.
The translation of “sthira sukham asanam” (Yoga Sutra II.46) has 3 aspects : firmness of body, steadiness of mind, and benevolence of spirit. This is the alignment that we seek in yoga. If we firm up our connection to the body, knowing every aspect both inside and out through careful and alert study and experiment, then our mind will better steady on one point or aspect of self (for Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, that aspect is our “true self” in purusa).
When body is fully known and can hold firm in its work and the mind has been drawn inward with this firm discipline of awareness, then the spirit is no longer distracted or held down, but set free in benevolence. Without these three aspects in our practice, we will continue to be distracted by usual habits formed in body and mind and miss out on the final depth of contact and “alignment” with our own self.
This is how I view the “alignment” of Iyengar Yoga…the structure that is seen from the outside is to bring us to alignment with the ultimate goal of yoga – stilling the fluctuations of our consciousness…