Alignment and ‘Iyengar Yoga’ are quite synonymous. Alignment is probably the most characterizing hallmark of Iyengar Yoga. The principle of Alignment is closely related to principles like: balance, symmetry, precision and harmony – all are fundamental principles in yoga practice.
When I wanted to be assessed for my last certificate, Guruji Iyengar requested me to send him photos of myself doing the asanas of the corresponding syllabus. Then, when later I came to his institute in Pune (India), I met him to receive his comments on my asanas. He went over the photos and drew lines over many of them, to indicate how my body was deviating from the correct alignment of the asana. But I noticed that apart from referring to the physical lines according to which the limbs of my body should have been aligned, he was looking for something else. He was looking for grace, beauty, and elegance in the performance of the asanas. His penetrating eyes were observing the mental state behind the external stretch of the limbs. He wanted to see harmony in the expression of each asana. It went far behind mere physical expression; he probably wanted to see the expression of the Self in the asana. This was a great lesson for me, a lesson that gave me ‘homework’ for the coming years. I came back to these same asanas over and over again, trying to improve the expression, trying to perform them with greater elegance and integrity.
It was evident that for him, alignment was not just drawing lines, or a concept applied to the arrangement of the body, but something much deeper.
In an interview given by Iyengar in 1982, he explained how by watching his own practice, as well as that of other people, he started to realize the importance of alignment:
“It wasn’t until then that the idea struck me that alignment is the most important thing. Yoga is alignment.”
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In this interview he extended the concept of alignment beyond the physical body:
“Later, with this alignment of the skeleton-muscular body, I began to align my mind, intelligence and consciousness, which made me look within. This new frame of study and observation made me engulf all the instruments of the self and made the very self occupy the body – its frontiers – as citta prasdana and atma prasdana“.
Citta is translated to consciousness, and Atma to Self (the capital S, indicates the eternal true self, rather than the transient notion of the mundane self). Prasdana means favorable disposition, tranquility, and grace.
Citta Prasdana is therefore graceful diffusion of the consciousness, or serene and benevolent consciousness. (See: Yoga Sutras I.33)
Iyengar explained alignment in this way:
“When I speak of alignment, it means we have to balance the energy and intelligence evenly throughout the body so that the life force is maintained ever-green and ever-fresh by the practice of asana. We have to develop through alignment to enlighten the intelligence in all asana, as each asana distinctively beams different rays of awareness and attention on intelligence“.
In Yoga Wisdom and Practice he said:
“Equi-distribution of energy and equi-flow of intelligence within the frame of body and the banks of the body in each asana is alignment for me. The awareness has to uniformly spread all over the body through the face or the profile of the asana. Alignment is to bring balance between the flow of energy and intelligence to connect the body to the mind.”p. 32
“We adjust not the body, but the awareness. The moment the awareness is brought to function, then the body finds its right alignment and adjusts; as water finds its level, the awareness, too, finds its level.”p. 185
When answering how the concept of alignment in yoga evolved, Iyengar said:
“You all say that the ‘Iyengar-system’ means alignment“.
But then he added:
“You are talking about the word, ‘body alignment’, but for me, alignment is something different.“
He explained that for him alignment is when the inner mind is spread evenly throughout the body and touches even the remotest parts.
“The physical alignment led me to go towards the mental alignment. That mind which was capsulated in the envelope of the body taught me to experience the vastness of the consciousness.“
“Alignment is of several types. It could be physical alignment, muscular alignment, alignment of nerves, alignment of fibers and tendons, besides the alignment of the intelligence consciousness and self“.
Iyengar saw the concept of alignment in the traditional framework of yoga:
“I did not invent the word alignment, it is Lord Krishna, Yogeshavara (The Lord of Yoga) who has used the word alignment in Chapter 6.13 of the Bhagavad Gita, … He has given a plumb line of the body to perform each asana or an asana to sit for dhyana. These are the crown of the head, well of the throat, and the perineum as plumb line…“
“Equanimity cannot happen without the techniques of alignment in body, senses, mind, intelligence, and self. One can develop this in the art of adjustment in asana which turns into auspicious action“.
So, when Iyengar said that he
“Aligned the ingredients of the body from the skin to self”
he refers to all the five Kosas (the sheaths covering the Self). The term ‘body’ doesn’t refer here to the physical body alone, but rather to the entire layered psychosomatic structure. With the principle of alignment in yoga, we can refine our being, starting from the known, the Anamayakosa (anatomical body), continuing to the slightly less known, Pranamaykosa (organic body), and reaching the most unknown Anandamayakosa (internal bliss body). By this process we penetrate deep into ourselves and transform our entire personality. Since finally:
“Alignment in body, mind and souls leads to enlightenment“.
In Light on Life, Iyengar wrote
“In asana you must align and harmonize the physical body and all the layers of the subtle emotional, mental, and spiritual body. This is integration.”Light on Life, p. 27
There are two important terms here: Harmony and Integration. In perfect alignment you find harmony between the outer and the inner; you align yourself with the forces of Prakriti (nature).
What could then be the meaning of the principle of alignment in each Kosa?
In the Anamayakosa it means to align your limbs and joints such that the entire body is aligned with the force of gravity. This allows one to maintain the posture with minimal effort and without wear and tear of the joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
In the organic body, the Pranamayakosa, it could mean homeostasis. Aligning the physical body keeps the natural shape and placement of the inner organs of the body, and allows the Prana (energy) to spread evenly. This increases the blood and nervous supply to the organs and hence, stimulates them and improves their functioning. Therefore, proper alignment allows the organic body to maintain homeostasis, i.e., to maintain a fixed, balanced internal environment, in the midst of a changing external environment.
In the mental body, the Manomayakosa, it could mean equanimity. When the physical and organic layers are properly aligned, the mind can diffuse evenly throughout the body, from the core to the skin. When the mind spreads evenly, it is not biased and not stuck; it is flowing freely and can better accommodate sorrows and other emotional disturbances. Equanimity is the capacity to keep a balanced mind, in spite of events and vicissitudes of the external world. An equanimous mind functions effectively, without being affected by reactions from other people nor by our own negative emotions and ill feelings.
In the intellectual body, the Vijnanamayakosa, it could mean having a right view – opposite to the obstacle of Brhanti Darshana (living under an illusion, mistaken notion. See: Yoga Sutra I.30). An aligned and balanced mind allows for intellectual clarity; the rays of the intelligence can radiate freely. By this we achieve clarity of mind – the capacity to perceive reality as it is, and to be able to respond appropriately in any situation and circumstance.
In the Anandamayakosa it may mean to align our own will with the cosmic will, or the will of God. We have many desires and wills, which take us in various directions in our life. But in order to find peace and joy (Ananda), we have to align our individual will, with the Universal order of things, with our true Self.
When all the layers of our system are aligned in this way, we can experience total integration, and dwell deeply and harmoniously with our True Self, sheathed in the Kosas.
 Astadala Yoga Mala, Vol. 4, p. 84, reprinted in: Yoga Wisdom and Practice, p.28-29)
 1975 – when he established his Institute – RIMYI
 Astadala Yoga Mala, Vol. 6 p. 209-210
 Yoga Rahasya Vol. 24, No. 4; 2017
 Astadala Yoga Mala, Vol. 6, p. 209-210
 Astadala Yoga Mala, Vol. 8, p. 159
 Astadala Yoga Mala, Vol. 6, p. 41