We need alignment

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We need alignment.

Have you ever had a chiropractor crack your back? The maneuver puts your vertebral joints in alignment. It frees up energy. It expands your range of motion. And you usually feel pretty darn fantastic afterward.

A while back, I went to a dance performance by the Nederlands Dans Theater. The ease of movement, the dancers' fluid transitions from one impossible pose to another, held me in awe. Body and mind, plan and action, passion, and hard work were in complete alignment.  

Never been to a chiropractor? Not inspired by dancers, like I am? Chances are, however, that you've seen alignment in action somewhere. Perhaps in a professional athlete, or a co-worker or a child. And you may have wondered how you could get there, to that state of ease, efficiency and focus.

I've been reading about alignment lately (surprise), and I came upon the reflections of several dancers on the question: Why is alignment important? 

Here is what they said:

Freedom: A better-placed body can execute actions with more freedom. 

Ease and use of Momentum: A well-aligned body requires less brute strength to hold and maintain positions. Alignment allows for ease of movement and makes it possible to properly harness momentum.

Health: If the body is not in good alignment while training, overuse syndromes like tendonitis or inflamed muscles can develop, and eventually joint injuries from constantly grinding articulations. Proper alignment reduces fatigue because your muscles are working correctly. 

Communication: If you are dancing with a partner, proper alignment clarifies the communication between the partners, and generally allows for more effective partnering.

Alignment is not just for vertebral joins and dancers. Organizations and people can get aligned, too. How do you get aligned? It's pretty simple, really: just connect who you are, what you believe, and what you do. Perhaps easier said than done, but entirely feasible.   

Aligned people and organizations ruthlessly eliminate the noise. They actively free up space for the essential. They train hard for agility and responsiveness. They move through their days with purpose. And they build things of value, to themselves and to others.

The result? Balance. Ease of movement. Freedom. Things becoming easier. Efficient use of momentum. Reduction of fatigue. Clarified communication. More effective collaborations. 

Sounds good, right?

What many of us are experiencing instead is similar to what the dancers have avoided through alignment: Brute strength needed to hold and maintain a position. A feeling of being overused. Constantly grinding in order to move forward, a grind that leads to unpleasant symptoms and pathologies.

There are more parallels between alignment, or the lack of it, in life and in dance. 

Alignment is individual: Because no two dancers' bodies are the same, what alignment actually consists of is radically different for every dancer. Just so in life: no two people or organizations (thank goodness) will find alignment in the same way.  

Alignment feels good: There is a simple test you can perform, both in dance and in life, to determine whether you are aligned or not: How does it feel? If it feels smooth, easy, flowing, effortless—then you are aligned. (Of course, neither dance nor life is "easy." But you can move with "ease" through the difficulties).

Alignment is both a state of being and a process: The dancer's body continually aligns itself as the dance proceeds, and only because it continually aligns through movement after movement can we talk of it being aligned. Just so in life: There is no final state called alignment because we are always aligning afresh to new circumstances; yet if we constantly adjust, we can continuously find alignment.

Alignment is concrete and iterative. Alignment in the dancer is not achieved by an abstract analysis of the dancer's muscles, joints, bones, and brain, a further analysis of the move or step that the choreography calls for, and a plan for how to move each tendon, ligament, and bone to execute that step. Rather, the dancer practices—trying out this, and that, and the other—following this tip here and that tip there, feeling all the while how well the movements flow. Alignment comes from repeated adjustments—sometimes tiny adjustments, sometimes huge—from repeated experimentation, tinkering, fiddling with how to move until it feels right. And the wonderful thing is that when it feels right—it is right. And anyone can see it. 

Finally, alignment is multidimensional: Inner alignment is a state in which our actions are connected to who we are and what we believe. Outer alignment describes the state of being seamlessly attuned to the world around you, much like a dancer is attuned to the choreography and her environment. The key is to balance inner and outer alignment..

How do we stay sane (let alone happy) in today's fast-paced and distracted environment? How do we live meaningful and responsible lives? Lives we feel good about, lives that are driven by a deep sense of purpose? How can we produce genuine value (however value is defined)? 

These questions keep me up at night.

And after many nights staying up and thinking about it all, I've come to the conclusion that these questions are deeply intertwined. They're connected in terms of the underlying problem they expose, and they're connected in terms of what constitutes a satisfying answer.  

I don't have the ultimate answer, but I think that eliminating misalignments wherever we can--in our lives and in our organizations-- can help us move forward with more purpose, ease, and momentum.

What's stopping you from getting aligned?