Last week I taught the alignment of Surya Namaskar A (sun salutations), moving through the poses one at a time and focusing on the alignment of each pose. Many yoga classes, including the ones I teach, often start with sun salutations, a traditional way to warm up the body for practice that spans many yoga traditions. And sun salutations contain many of the most common, foundational poses of yoga. So it’s quite interesting to focus on those poses and take them from being unconscious movements we just do, to consciously moving through each and breaking down the alignment.

Whenever we do something in a repeated fashion, we start to learn and remember it. I would like all of us, both seasoned and newer practitioners, to wisely choose how we practice these movements, especially because we do them so often. Slight misalignments will build up over repeated movements, and patterns will become more entrenched. These patterns are called samskaras in yoga.

I think a teacher’s primary responsibility with beginners is to help them imprint positive patterns: patterns of good alignment. My opinion is that once a student learns to move in ways that support the body, in good alignment, that student can then safely extend their yoga practice to another style of yoga, such as flow or heated practices, or to more advanced poses. After all, a lot of what makes any physical practice safe is how aware the practitioner is of their body in space, and how aware they are of how their body feels, whether you’re snowboarding or practicing headstand. In this way, the imprints, or samskaras, of how I place my body, frees up awareness to focus on how it feels, and whether the subtle actions within the pose are working.

Both groups I taught to this week received the detailed alignment breakdown of surya namaskar well, and the idea of imprinting positive patterns. Often, the teachings about samskaras are from the perspective of discerning what our patterns are, and choosing to keep ones that serve and release ones that don’t, and as a seasoned practitioner that’s a lot of what my work is, in my own practice. But with newer students, it’s often a pretty blank slate, or at least the patterns are much less entrenched, and we have a great opportunity to build a good samskara directly. I’m quite sure that my foundation of Iyengar yoga was crucial to my early satisfaction (delight!) with yoga, and has served me well through today, fourteen years later.

I truly think that starting with alignment-based classes is the way for anyone to begin, because it establishes samskaras of proper alignment.