Let's begin where we often do: Mountain Pose. Rather than offer traditional yoga alignment cues for this one, I'd like to share how I teach Tadasana to my students who have all sorts of different body types and backgrounds.
Note: Everything expressed here is an opinion, based on facts and my own understanding of yoga. Nothing I say here is final or finite.
On Authentic Alignment
Alignment principles were laid down by men, ages ago. They do not take into account that we westerners spend so much of our time in chairs, or that we often crane our necks to use cell phones. They do not necessarily take wide hips or tight shoulders into account.
Being authentically aligned means that we use traditional alignment as a guide but allow for wiggle room as our bodies need it.
Authentic alignment is practicing in a way that feels good on the body and improves overall well-being. We align ourselves with who we want to be, both physically and out in the world as mindful individuals. Alignment is not black and white. It's flesh colored and it changes.
That being said, stand on the mat. The feet can be together, big toes can touch if that feels okay. If you have tight IT bands or wide hips, I suggest placing an inch or two between the feet. Just ensure that the inside edges of the feet are parallel.
Stand tall. Feel grounded. Notice the feet on the earth and try to equally distribute weight between the balls of the feet and the heels. Then spread the weight out evenly to the sides of the feet as well.
Engage the thighs, not by pushing them back, but rather by lifting them up slightly toward the hip flexors. Point the tailbone to the heels and begin to engage Mula Bandha. Mula Bandha is like a shelf underneath the legs. Gently prop that shelf up.
Strengthen the upper body.
Next, Uddiyana Bandha – gently scoop in the abdominal muscles. I like to think of this like "using the force," then sucking it in through my belly button and toward the top of my head.
Proudly present the chest. Widen the collarbones. Breathe deeply to feel the expansion of the heart area. Then relax the shoulders.
Find a soft smile on the face. Jaw is relaxed. Find space between the eyebrows. Release stress and tension. Then pull the crown of the head toward the sky. Keep reaching upward and upward with the torso as the legs ground you down to the earth.
This is Tadasana.
Breathe deeply into this pose. Breathe in to this feeling of strength. Like a powerful mountain, you have a solid base and are full of majestic wonder. At your peak you can almost touch heaven, and at your base you are powerful and stable.
This is an authentic mountain pose. Use it as a check-in and as confidence booster.
Align authentically with who you want to be every time you come to the mat. Allow for adjustments to fix over-compensations or weaknesses from one side to another. Use the practice of yoga to look deeply inward; discover who your authentic self really is, then align to that.