Yoga Adjustments: "Why, When, & How?"
What I think about Yoga Adjustments
When I was first starting out with yoga, practicing in my living room, some poses had to have looked as uncomfortable as they felt. Think downward dogs with bowed-out elbows and a rounded back. Twisted and painful triangles. Cracking bones. Gah!
Looking back, it wasn’t a very safe way to practice and I’m grateful that no serious injuries ever came about. But I do remember thinking, “Maybe there’s something wrong; I wish I had a teacher who can set me right.” Now that I have studied all around the world I know the best teachers can correct a student’s position solely through clear and helpful verbal cues; there is no need to actually touch a student.
What if the verbal cues aren’t working?
what if a teacher did more harm than good in their practice?
Adjustments are a powerful way to correct a student’s positioning. They serve as an opportunity to teach and to retrain unsafe patterns and other incorrect ways of moving, all with the goal of providing better body alignment awareness that will help the student’s practice evolve. In this blog post, I will discuss the why, when and how of correcting a student’s pose with hands-on adjustments.
To start, watch a preview to the Adjustments Workshop that we offer at Long Beach School of Yoga, and then continue reading below for some practical information about creating positive energy while helping your students transform through practice.
Why Yoga Adjustments Can Bring Positive Energy to Your Class
As I mentioned before, traditional yoga and adjustments never really went together, which means there aren’t any clear-cut “classical” rules regarding adjustments. In today’s yoga studios, however, adjustments are widely considered beneficial as long as they’re done correctly. Not only does it promote proper body mechanics, but the magic of touch facilitates a flow of energy, which means the teacher needs to approach adjustments with a clear, focused intention and without any inappropriate sexual energy.
When it’s helpful, instructive, asexual and backed by a focused intention, an adjustment can truly be powerful while creating a lot of trust between student and teacher. A good adjustment also teaches and accentuates the good energy in the studio. Its ability to teach technique is undeniable, but it is important to know when to adjust students and how to do it right.
When It’s Appropriate to Adjust a Student’s Pose
A good rule regarding giving adjustments is: don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. Some students are pretty sensitive to being touched; others may have gone through a traumatic situation so touching them may cause unpleasant memories or feelings to arise. You never know what a student may feel about touching, so for this reason, the first step is getting consent and knowing how the students in your class feel about hands-on adjustments.
You don’t necessarily need to create a public scene about it. Asking something simple like “raise your hand if you do not want adjustments” can be pretty effective. Another approach when asking for consent can be asking the students to give a thumbs up or thumbs down when everyone has their eyes closed.
Keep in mind that a student may say “yes,” but during the adjustment, you may feel some resistance, whether it’s physical or energetic. In this case, you should ask yourself if the adjustment is actually relevant.
Don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel uncomfortable yourself or aren’t sure if it will cause more confusion or risk of injury.
So how do you know if making an adjustment is truly relevant or appropriate? Generally, the best time to adjust a student is when they are in an unsafe position or if it really looks like they are ready to go a little bit deeper (if your approach is to help students get deeper in their poses). Another way to ask this question might be, “what makes a good adjustment versus a bad one?” When I ask my students this question in our yoga adjustment workshops, the answers can vary pretty widely, but there are some common themes. For instance, a good adjustment is typically defined as one that: 1. Corrects an unsafe position 2. Teaches a technique 3. Has a clear and focused intention 4. Takes a motivated student further than he/she can go on their own Inversely, a bad adjustment is one that: 1. Doesn’t teach the student anything 2. Includes unfocused and confusing instructions 3. Feels bad, wrong or inappropriate 4. Harms or injures the student You will know the appropriate time to adjust a student as long as you are sensitive to the classroom and by asking for consent preceding any hands-on adjustment.
How You Can Best Correct a Student’s Pose
Now that you know why hands-on adjustments can be helpful, and when it’s the right time to do it, the next step is to use the right techniques for effective results. So how do you know if making an adjustment is truly relevant or appropriate? Generally, the best time to adjust a student is when they are in an unsafe position or if it really looks like they are ready to go a little bit deeper (if your approach is to help students get deeper in their poses).
Another way to ask this question might be, “what makes a good adjustment versus a bad one?” When I ask my students this question in our yoga adjustment workshops, the answers can vary pretty widely, but there are some common themes.
For instance, a good adjustment is typically defined as one that:
- Teaches A Technique
- Corrects an Unsafe Position
- Has A Clear & Focused Intention
- Takes A Motivated Student further than on their own
Inversely, a bad adjustment is one that:
- Includes unfocused & confusing instructions.
- Doesn’t teach the student anything.
- Feels bad, wrong, or inappropriate.
- Harms or injures the student.
You will know the appropriate time to adjust a student as long as you are sensitive to the classroom and by asking for consent preceding any hands-on adjustment.
How You Can Best Correct a Student’s Pose
Now that you know why hands-on adjustments can be helpful, and when it’s the right time to do it, the next step is to use the right techniques for effective results. A well-defined pre-requisite is the intention of your adjustment. Whenever you touch a student, a kind of energy transfer between teacher and student takes place. If you bring the right healing energy and intention, you can avoid problems that might make the student feel uncomfortable or push the student further than his/her ability will naturally let them.
In other words, bring the best of yourself whenever making an adjustment and do not push people too far. Along with consent and the healing intention you bring, you need to use good body mechanics to actually make the adjustment. The type of adjustment needs to be very specific and useful. If you walk up to a student and simply grope his/her thighs, then that’s not an adjustment.
That’s the type of touching that will make your student feel uncomfortable and at the very least, it’s unhelpful and really doesn’t give the student anything. Instead, if you lightly pressed on a specific spot, made the adjustment and removed your hands respectfully, then it can help the student get out of the unsafe position or effectively help him/her get to that deeper expression.
Also, your body mechanics when adjusting a triangle pose will likely be very different than when you are adjusting a warrior pose, for example. For this reason, you should always ask yourself, “where should I position my body to make the best adjustment.” Some techniques that I’ve used to ensure effective, comfortable adjustments and good body mechanics include: 1. Grounding myself and finding my center beforehand 2. Dropping my center of gravity to create a more stable foundation 3. Relaxing as much as possible to avoid transferring tension and “bad energy” to the student The techniques for each pose may vary, and so you should continually practice (and study yoga adjustments) to ensure both you and your students are getting the most out of them.
I especially encourage those who have a massage therapy background to share their hands-on abilities with students if they really want to. Safety is always a first priority in yoga so only offer those adjustments that you are experienced in giving and receiving. You will have ample opportunities to continually improve your hands-on adjustment skills, but don’t forget that sometimes all you really need to make a proper, positive-energy adjustment is a clear verbal cue or a just a focused light touch.
- Ram Bhakt
- Long Beach School of Yoga
Update: 3/13/2021 While researching yoga insurance and yoga injuries I came across two articles that helped me know everything I need to know about adjustments in yoga and yoga injuries.