How do you feel about yoga adjustments?
As a new yogi, I hated being touched during my practice. I slipped into the asanas the teachers described, found comfort in them, and did not want to be adjusted. In hindsight, I realise I resisted adjustments because I was relying on strength and poor alignment to do poses I wasn’t flexible enough for.
Years (and several yoga injuries) later, I had learned to appreciate verbal cues to fix my alignment and had also developed a strong enough practice that I began to enjoy the sensation of deep stretching. But then, I began to dislike adjustments for a different reason – I found yoga to be very serious and deeply personal, so I had this notion in my head that if I couldn’t make my way into the pose, then I just needed to work on finding it by myself. I also thought that a teacher should be able to verbally articulate adjustments rather than having to resort to manhandling. This was reinforced during my first teacher training – we learned a few very basic adjustments, but were cautioned never to use actual force or to push students for fear of injury (lawsuits).
As teachers, of course it’s crucial that we have a grasp of anatomy and are capable of explaining poses fully and effectively. But verbally adjusting individual students can interrupt the flow of a class – not to mention, we’ve all seen the “yoga buzz” phenomenon in our students as well as ourselves: we get so focused on our practice that words can be hard to understand, especially minor details. It’s almost egotistical to think our words are more important than what our bodies have to say. Not that we should be walking around a room moving everyone’s hand an inch to the left, but if you see a meaningful adjustment a student can benefit from, I say make it.
Obviously, it’s important that we don’t push our students into poses they are not capable of. If you routinely teach classes that are so full that you don’t know all of your students, that’s one thing – but I recognise most of my students if not by name, then by practice. I don’t pretend to know more about their bodies than they do, but I do know that fear is far more of a barrier than strength or flexibility. For instance, as soon as I tell students to put a blanket under their face while they practice bakasana the fear of a broken nose disappears and they’re suddenly ten times stronger.
Additionally, as teachers we get to see a different perspective than students see of themselves. They may think they’re hunched in a ball near the ground in child’s pose with their elbows squeezing their heads, but we can see their hips are above their shoulders, back is straight, and their toes are lifting off the ground. I don’t know about you, but I would rather offer them my arm to squeeze between the shins for proper alignment while they develop core strength and balance than tell them to practice kicking up against a wall.
I experienced the other end of the spectrum during my advanced Ashtanga teacher training in India, where my teacher sat on my back as I did forward bends and responded to “no, I don’t think my foot will go behind my head today” with a snort and an expertly executed adjustment resulting in yoganidrasana. Clearly, even someone who earned the nickname “Fearless Fifi” as a child was susceptible to insecurity – but all it took was a teacher who saw what I didn’t to show me the pose. I’m still a strong advocate of finding your own postures, but sometimes you just need someone to show you the way first. So I’ll help you up into a handstand, but just once – and then you have to learn it for yourself.