“TO ADJUST” or “NOT TO ADJUST”? That is the question all teachers should ask themselves, every year, every class, every student.  The idea of physically adjusting a student for the student to ‘go deeper’ or ‘feel the posture more’ or ‘know where to go in the posture’ is a habit we have gotten into as yoga teachers and it may not be the best one for our students.  Are we sacrificing our students need to learn from their own bodies because we feel the need to ‘help’ our students by ‘giving them’ physical adjustments?

For semantics purposes I would like to clarify that the ‘Assisting’ for me differs from physical ‘Adjustments’.  I can assist a student with proper alignment in triangle posture or even a bicep curl without laying one hand on them. I can assist a student with a directional verbal cue, pointing or even a gentle touch on the muscle or area needing contraction or relaxation.  Adjusting a person comes in many forms: gentle adjustment, strong adjustment, directional adjustment, using hands firmly, using body weight or leverage, etc., but all require the teachers hands (or other body part) on the student directing them where to move their body, or parts of their body, in space.

Personally, I have worked in the fitness industry for 24 years.  I have taught group fitness classes, provided personal training, taught various levels of yoga students and led yoga teacher trainings and retreats.  In the fitness and personal training industry we have never been taught to firmly physically adjust clients/students. We use our words, our own bodies to demonstrate and other methods to help clients find within their own bodies where to experience movement.  Personally, I like to give adjustments and I like to receive them.  Professionally, though, I think there is much more room to explore why we give or receive adjustments.

I spent years adjusting yoga students so I am not saying there isn’t room for it. Three years ago, I had a major surgery.  This resulted in a long recovery time.  I stopped doing any physical adjustments until I was feeling fully stable in my own body.  One time, when I thought I was close enough to this stability, I adjusted someone in a typical way I had done many times before in downward facing dog.  She had taken classes before with me and I asked her if it was an ok adjustment. She, thankfully, said that I was adjusting her asymmetrically and I immediately stopped.  I am so much stronger and aware of my ‘new body’ after surgery. Yet, I have chosen to rarely make physical adjustments that require leverage of my own over someone else’s for several reasons.

With ahimsa as our backdrop, there are ways we can address this question of whether as teachers we choose to adjust or not, and whether we want to be adjusted as students. First, know how much shared physical contact and transmission of energy is necessary between student and teacher.  Second, decide where in our yoga teacher training could teaching adjustments be demonstrated most effectively.  Finally, know what the final goal and intention of providing physical adjustments, especially the stronger adjustments.

With the MeToo movement and the outpouring of previously unexposed abuse in the yoga industry, we should question whether adjusting students in the same way we have been for many years is essential.  Most definitely, even as women yoga teachers, we should be questioning how close and what parts of our body come into contact with students’ bodies when ‘just trying to get students to feel the posture more’.  Can we let students feel and practice yoga postures with their own innate whole being without touch?  Can we use language and swadyaya as a way for students to find more in the postures?

Often assisting and adjustments are taught in 200 hour yoga teacher trainings.  Some trainings teach gentle adjustments or none at all and other trainings teach much stronger physical adjustments. Have you ever been to a physical therapist or chiropractor? They have many more years of experience adjusting and moving bodies than we do, yet so many of us have witnessed or been a part of an adjustment that felt much stronger than these medical therapies.  Should a new teacher be adjusting students and if so why?  Maybe there could be a specialized CEU training for yoga adjustments after several years of teaching.  I found this really helpful in my 500 hour teacher training. I had a lot more teaching experience by then and taught the postures for 1000s of hours before adjusting students.

If we are giving adjustments, continue to question why we are doing it and if we are effective in doing it.  Do the adjustments inform the student on how to get there on their own? When I used to give adjustments in a downward facing dog posture, I regularly got asked by students, “ I love that adjustment, now how do I get my body to do that?” Well, sorry, but you cannot get your hips to pull back as far as I press them on your own. I can show you how to do some of it in a wall with a rope; and yes, you will get there to some degree on your own, but you are using your muscular skeletal system to get yourself there. When I press or pull on your pelvis or legs, my muscles and skeletal system is working for that spaciousness you feel.  When I adjust you in a twist, my muscles are helping you get there, not yours.  What do we want the student to gain from our bodies pulling or pressing on theirs – to rely on us or to rely and empower themselves?

Adjustments can be powerful, but they also give teachers the power. Like it or not that is what happens. In fact, if a student doesn’t relax enough, or instead gives resistance to the adjustment of a teacher, the adjustment is less effective.  If many adjustments are innately powerful on the part of the teacher, why do we need to do them?  Let’s start that conversation.  I am not advocating that yoga teachers should refrain from adjusting students; nor am I saying yoga students should not enjoy being adjusted.  But we should ALWAYS question why having someone’s hands on our body or placing our hands on someone else’s body is necessary to experience yoga asana.

I do adjust some students, sometimes.  I teach some yoga adjustments in teacher trainings. I do enjoy even strong physical adjustments in my own practice sometimes. But I do not promote them for myself or others.  I have gotten injured by well-known master teachers; I have been adjusted strongly on one side, but not even looked at for the other side; I have heard from students perplexed at why they said ‘no’ to adjusting and the teacher still adjusted them; I have watched students heal from damage from above ‘no’ adjustment.  Have we gotten hooked on manipulating bodies into the form or shape you think an asana should appear?  Did we leave stirra and sukkah (steadiness and ease) at the door in our teaching of yoga asana for our students? Can we allow our students to be powerful in their own stirra and sukkah through our wise guidance rather than our strong bodies?

Again, there is a place for everything, so ask yourself, students and teachers: to adjust or not to adjust. That is the question.

[Cover Photo by gbSk – CC BY]

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