Dear Yogi E,
I hear yoga teachers saying that yoga is not about perfecting the pose, but in the very next breath they correct my alignment in the posture. Which is it: perfecting the posture or not?
Confused in Trikonasana
As you’re beginning to notice, yoga is full of seeming contradictions (emphasis on the seeming). In this case, both claims implied by your teachers’ instructions above are correct: 1) yoga is not about perfecting the posture; 2) postural alignment is important.
It’s helpful to remember that yoga postures are not the practice of yoga, but a place to practice yoga. In this light, the postures can be seen in their proper perspective. They are designed to create a particular kind of experience—oftentimes a challenging experience—to help you become conscious of self-sabotaging mental habits.
By challenging your abilities, a posture helps you see how self-judgment poisons your experience; by asking you to be uncomfortable, a posture provides you a glimpse at how your resistance to your experience only worsens your experience; by revealing your physical limitations to others in the class, the posture illuminates your desperation to measure up. Over and over, yoga postures provide you insight into the many and varied habits that have been tormenting you your entire life.
From this viewpoint, it’s easy to see how alignment is important: if you abandon proper alignment and are allowed to do the pose any way you please, you’ll simply perform the posture in the way you like and end up doing nothing more than feeding your ego (not to mention possibly hurting yourself). On the other hand, if your attitude is one of trying to perfect the posture, you’re merely acting out the very habits that have been causing you to miss the possibility of fulfillment and happiness in each moment of your life.
With all of this said, my recommendation is to do your best to adhere to the prescribed alignment while allowing the postures to show you the myriad ways that you yourself may be interfering with the possibility of fulfillment and happiness in each moment of your life.
Love & Blessings,