I have been to many yoga classes where the instructor never so much as places a pinky on me. In our modern-day society of litigation and miscommunication, hands-on adjustments in yoga classes can be both tricky and sticky business.
I know we do, I hear it all the time. From the students who clearly remember the first time an instructor helped them into wheel pose, to the student next to me on the mat sighing in relief as an instructor helps steady them in tree pose. Students benefit greatly from hands-on adjustments by learning proper alignment, experiencing a deeper expression of the posture with the help of skillful guidance, and most importantly...by receiving human connection. More than anything, what we can give students physically through assists we give them psychologically and spiritually by creating a connection.
This isn’t magic or a new age concept that is hard to justify. This is real-life, modern day, hard-core reality. If you’re unsure of this in any way, check our this video with Dr. Brene Brown:
You see? We’re all here to connect. In a yoga class, adjustments are probably the best way to do that. Our mental health and well-being is absolutely dependent on our connection to others, and physical touch is a critical part of that. Anyone who took a Psychology 101 class in college has seen the studies on touch-deprivation, and they’re heartbreaking.
This critical aspect of my teaching was illuminated to me many years ago when a student came up to me after class to thank me and tell me how much she enjoyed my classes. Her gratitude boiled over into tears when she told me, “Alanna, sometimes you’re the only one who touches me for weeks on end.”
I was floored.
But, then I thought about it. Here’s a student who is unmarried, and lives alone. Who is she likely to touch? Not her boss. Maybe her friends when she sees them once or twice a month. It can be lonely out there...and not just for the single ladies. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, readers. I am in no way suggesting that hands-on adjustments are a form of romantic intimacy. They are, in fact, quite the opposite.
Hands-on adjustments, when done skillfully and correctly, can be the most powerful way to develop trust amongst our students.
Giving your student someone and something to trust can open up their world and grant them the greatest opportunity that yoga has to offer: the ability to surrender. Before we go any further with that idea, let me be clear on a couple of things:
1. Adjustments are not to be confused with any intentions other than an uplifted intention to serve the students’ highest good.
2. We need to know what we’re doing. We need a comprehensive understanding of alignment, anatomy, body mechanics, subtle body, and injuries as well as injury prevention (If you want to learn how to give safe and effective adjustments, come hang with me at Kripalu).
Okay, once we have these elements in place, then bringing skillful adjustments can transform a student’s practice in a way that no verbal adjustment could. By providing a connection with another human being that fosters trust, students have the opportunity to go beyond self-imposed boundaries and realize what they never thought was possible.
Oh yeah, I’m not kidding. I’ve seen it time and time again.
The student fearful of doing wheel pose is assisted up into a glorious back bend that they are so proud of they tell their friends about for the next month. The student stuck in a crampy half-moon is assisted into one that is so much easier and relaxed, and now it’s their favorite posture. The students who can’t let go and relax in shavasana and is given assists to release their hips finally relaxes and falls into a restful state—the first they’ve experienced in years.
It’s magical. Yoga is good like that. When we, as teachers, serve it up right, yoga will always do its job.
In order to offer assists of this magnitude, it is critical that we take it very seriously, as we don’t want any crossed wires, mixed emotions or misjudgments to come into play. We’ll need to make sure to educate ourselves on how to do proper adjustments and give every adjustment we learn the litmus test of proper discernment to decide whether it really does serve the student’s highest good. But if it does, it could be the catalyst for connection that the student craves far more than nailing a crow pose.
It can be the gateway to a real understanding of yoga and an opportunity to surrender that the student may not have in other parts of his or her life. It may also give you the opportunity to realize the power of your own personal connection, and what a great and glorious gift it is to be able to offer it as a yoga instructor!
If you’d like to take an intensive course on adjustments to hone your skills and transform the lives of your students, register for The Art of Adjustments: A Continuing Education Course for Teachers at Kripalu from Sept 23-28, 2012.