When I first started teaching yoga several years ago, one of the things I worried about the most was making sure my students avoided injury.
I knew that proper alignment was an essential part of practicing safely, but my Kripalu training also taught me a lot more…
Synthesizing what I learned from my training, I came up with a 3-part mantra that helped guide my teaching and continues to guide my personal practice today…
Breath, Length, Compassion…
1. Breath – All forms of yoga and meditation start with connecting to the breath. This is the foundation for bringing our minds into the present moment and our awareness into our bodies.
But it’s not just about starting your practice by focusing on the breath… It’s about staying connected and returning to the breath repeatedly throughout each transition into and out of a yoga posture.
The breath is like a traffic light… When your breathing becomes strained, it tells you you’re pushing too hard and you need to yield or release a stretch. When the breath is free-flowing and unrestricted, it’s an indication it’s safe to continue deepening or holding a stretch.
2. Length – This is the alignment part of safe yoga practice. Our bodies are skeletal structures stabilized at the core by the spine, pelvis and sacrum, along with the surrounding muscles. Before moving into or releasing a yoga posture, it’s essential to stabilize the core by lengthening the spine and engaging the abdominal muscles.
Keeping your spine long during yoga practice not only protects you from injury, it also allows your breath to move more freely and deeply.
3. Compassion – Being compassionate toward ourselves (and to others) is part of the practice of ahimsa (non-harming), one of the key principles of yoga.
Think about it… If you’re feeling critical or judgmental toward yourself—including comparing your body to other yoga practitioners—you’re more likely to be careless in your movements or to push your body too far. But when you bring a sense of self-compassion to your practice, you learn to honor your body (including any physical limitations) exactly where it is in that moment.
The beauty of remembering breath, length and compassion is that they apply “off the mat” too… In other words, stand tall, breathe and show yourself some love — not just when you’re doing yoga.