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Remember the “order of operations” from algebra class?

Parentheses, then

Exponents, then

Multiplication and Division and finally

Addition and Subtraction.

Maybe a high school math teacher had you memorize the phrase, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” so that you could attack intimidating equations in a way that would lead to a correct result.

In yoga class, we also have an order of operations, which you can remember with the acronym BAD.

Breath, then

Alignment, and finally


Breath: Your breath is crucial in class.

There’s the obvious: you-must-breathe-to-stay-alive. Duh!

There’s the practical: Your muscles and your brain need oxygen to function optimally during class, and breathing is the only delivery system you’ve got.

And then there are the more subtle aspects of your experience that are controlled by your breath: Your breath is your conscious connection to your vagus nerve, which activates your parasympathetic nervous system, calming down your heart rate, and reassuring your brain that everything is okay and it can remain in growth/problem-solving/focus mode rather than launching into fight/flight.

Make sure you’re breathing, and keep your breaths as slow and calm as possible. 

Alignment: Alignment comes next.

Alignment is the careful arrangement of your body parts in relation to each other and to landmarks in the room as you set up and move into each of the postures

Alignment is important for three main reasons:

  1. Safety. These postures have been “road tested” by thousands (millions?) of yogis over many, many years. We want to protect the vulnerable parts of your anatomy (knees, low back, neck, wrists, etc.).
  2. Healing. A small mis-alignment can mean that the muscle group or organ that should be receiving the benefits of the posture simply isn’t. The entire series is designed so that every part of your body is positively affected, and each posture, properly aligned, prepares you for the next. Build strength, flexibility, and better health with precise alignment.The better your alignment, the better you’ll feel in the long run.
  3. Meditation. My favorite definition of meditation: Noticing what it feels like to be you. Paying very close attention to exactly where body parts relative to one another, what is contracting, what is relaxing, locates your attention in precise areas of your body. This kind of focus takes a lot of energy, but it is actually calming to your brain to be zeroed in on what is happening at one precise moment in time.

Please ask teachers questions before and after class if you have specific questions about alignment. Go to posture clinics whenever the opportunity presents itself. Observe your fellow students. Use the mirror. Learn to feel good alignment in your body and see it in your reflection.

Depth: Wait for it!

Without breath control and alignment, depth is…something to worry about once you have a good handle on breath and alignment.

With breath control and alignment, depth is a place to play and experiment and grow. It’s a place to have fun and challenge your edge and amaze yourself.

Breath. Alignment. Depth. Focus on the BAD, and so much good is on its way!

–Ellen Olson-Brown, The Hot Yoga Factory Chelmsford



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