Book review

Yoga Critical Alignment: Building a Strong, Flexible Practice through Intelligent Sequencing and Mindful Movement by Gert van Leeuwen

Shambhala Publications August 13, 2013
1611800633 978-1611800630 424 pages
New York Journal of Books
Genre: Nonfiction / Health, Wellness & Medical / Yoga

“. . . an excellent reference manual for yoga teachers, experienced students, and yoga therapists.”

“The healing effects of Critical Alignment are twofold: therapeutic and meditative,” writes Gert van Leeuwen in Yoga: Critical Alignment, a book introducing a new concept in modern yoga which combines the disciplines of meditation and asana (yoga postures).

Critical Alignment is closely related to the yoga system of Iyengar, using a series of props and the same groupings of asanas which are held for long periods of time. Critical Alignment takes the practice further by recognizing chains of movement (where small movements passing through body parts create larger movements) and the connections among movement chains.

The Critical Alignment protocol comprises three essential steps: relaxation of the movement muscles, movement to increase mobility and optimize the function of postural muscles, and development of strength and coordination.

Using slow deep breathing, body weight and gravity, Critical Alignment starts with the relaxation of the movement muscles and ends with balancing the skeleton so the body can be used easefully in daily life. Getting to a state of alignment and mobility at the skeletal level is especially important in therapeutic applications.

Yoga: Critical Alignment offers clear, detailed language and monochrome diagrams, illustrations and photos to support discussions of anatomy, body structure and asanas. All the Sanskrit asana names are explained in the text, and there is an index of asana illustrations presented alphabetically by Sanskrit name. The book is highly organized, so references to specific illustrations/content are easy to access. An index is included.

To highlight key points, author van Leeuwen uses a few personal anecdotes, including one about his epiphany when “A totally different attention developed, one based on openness and relaxation.” In Critical Alignment, the practitioner concentrates primarily on the technical aspects of asana; however, this approach is actually meditative because it transfers the meaning of the concepts into the experience of relaxation.

Yoga: Critical Alignment provides suggested meditation and breathing techniques, then continues with instruction for various asanas: inversions, standing postures, forward bends, backbends, twists, seated poses, shoulder and abdominal exercises, and relaxation practices. Mr. van Leeuwen’s tone is as if the instructions are spoken. The book concludes with advice for teachers and yoga sequences described and illustrated for beginner and advanced levels of forward bends, twists, backbends, and standing poses.

Yoga: Critical Alignment maintains that “Good lessons provide more than just the feeling of a workout.” They promote optimism, positive feelings, creativity, clear thinking, humor, decisiveness, confidence and independence.

For correcting habitual patterns and returning the body to its original balance, Yoga: Critical Alignment is an excellent reference manual for yoga teachers, experienced students, and yoga therapists.

Reviewer Birgit W. Patty is proprietor of Apex Yogic Living in Apex, NC. She is a perpetual yoga student and a certified Integral Yoga teacher.