(My first published article! in November 2012 Om Magazine)
If you’ve practiced yoga for any period of time, sooner or later you have probably had a teacher approach you in class and make physical contact with your body. Perhaps it was a gentle touch inviting you to relax into a space, or a firmer contact applying pressure in a specific direction. They may have even supported your weight while you came into a headstand.
Most yoga practitioners can reap tremendous rewards from effective adjustments. A good assist can deepen your understanding of postural alignment and fine tune your sense of the body. Your teacher-student relationship may also benefit inviting a nurturing, healing quality to your practice that isnâ€™t present in many yoga classes. When not approached properly, however, being adjusted can range from feeling pointless to an invasion of personal space; it can even lead to injury. What then, makes an adjustment ‘good’?
Intelligence of Body and Mind Ultimately, an intelligent assist allows you to be present in your yoga practice and experience any asana more deeply. Before ever making physical contact, an astute teacher should be able to see your unique potential and limitations in any given posture and sense how best to communicate with you. This is not always through touch, but even verbal assists should always be delivered with compassion and empathy. In order to execute good physical assists, an advanced understanding of asana anatomy and energetics is necessary, as well as an ability to ‘read’ the body (understanding physical clues to get a deeper sense of the whole being). Yoga teachers come from a vast array of backgrounds with a huge variance of knowledge and skill, so it is important to be aware of your teacherâ€™s qualifications as an indicator of what to expect from their class. The experienced teacher will know to approach adjustments cautiously until they have a sense of your practice. Given the risks and knowledge required, why do adjustments remain so important to the in-class yoga experience?
Communicating Through Touch In truth, adjustments don’t feature prominently in all styles of yoga, and there is extensive debate on how much or how little to interfere on a physical level with the students’ journey towards inner awareness (pratyahara and meditation).Â Some of the more prominent methods practiced today including Iyengar, Ashtanga and vinyasa derivatives, recognise the benefits of a hands-on approach.
People learn through a variety of tools, and because asana practice is a physical experience aiding in body awareness, touch can often help to feel rather than think; one of the benefits of yoga, after all, is to get out of the mind. The tangibility of being guided into appropriate alignment can be more potent than using words, particularly for the kinaesthetically inclined. Adjustments, however, are about more than just getting into alignment within a posture. Ultimately, being open to being assisted in a yoga class is about cultivating a relationship with yourself based on trust, respect, and dialogue. Learning to listen to the body and trusting when it is ok to be touched aides in building an intrinsic awareness when something feels right, or wrong. Each experience of an adjustment on the mat is an opportunity to be present and to check in with how the body and mind are receiving the incoming information.Â When an adjustment feels right it benefits the student-teacher relationship to acknowledge it in some way whether it be a nod or another gesture. Communicating when something doesn’t feel right is even more important. Many teachers welcome feedback as it gives them the opportunity to grow. If they are not open to accepting the feedback, it is worth questioning whether you should return to their class. If you don’t wish to be touched or adjusted, the best time to let the teacher know is before the class begins. There should never be a need for an explanation.
Adjustment tips for teachers 1. Check your ego at the door. A mindful adjustment is given with the intention for the student to thrive wherever they are in their practice rather than trying to change them in some way. It is their practice, and the adjustment should always reflect an element of enriching their experience on the mat. 2. Make yourself known. Approach a student so they can see and hear you. Move with intention and be specific about the region of the body you are aiming to touch. 3. Respect that each individual has a unique background they have brought with them in one way or another to the yoga class. Respect their practice, their body, its strengths and its limitations. Respect each student has right to say ‘no’. 4. Adjust your frequency. Language plays an important part of the learning experience. if words like ‘correct’ or ‘fix’ sneak into a teacher’s dialogue, it assumes there is something wrong to begin with. Similarly, phrases beginning with ‘you need to’ or ‘do this for me’ may have a condescending tone. 5. See the forest through the trees. All good adjustments start by seeing the whole being from the foundation up. Even if you’ve spotted something going on in the shoulders or neck that needs addressing, without looking to the foundation first and ensuring the person is grounded, any other adjustment will be made in vain.
Lizzie Reumont is a London-based Jivamukti yoga teacher and bodywork therapist who is currently training in the Rolfing technique of structural integration.Â She teaches at Indaba Yoga Studio and The Life Centre in London. She is teaching a series of Adjustment Workshops at Indaba Yoga Studio. The next dates are on November 25 and January 6. Visit: indabayoga.com