Question for Yoga Teachers: Why Do You Adjust?

Via on Jan 13, 2011

Is it just my ego? Or am I being adjusted way more than normal?

So, uh, maybe this is a stupid question…but why do you adjust me so much? No, no, I love adjustments, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that, well, I seem to get adjusted way more than anyone else. Why?

This is the question I’ve been wanting to ask my yoga instructors over the past month. (And I ask it here because I suspect that others sometimes wonder the same thing.) How do you choose who to adjust? Why me? What am I doing wrong? Do I suck? Am I blatantly wrong? Am I glaringly tight? Do I look like I’m trying too hard? Am I embarrassing myself?

Perhaps it’s just my ego talking here, but I’ve noticed that I get adjusted. A lot. I thought maybe I was just having selective attention: only noticing when I got adjusted and not when others did. So I started keeping a tally. Yep, I started counting up all the times a pair of hands would press down on my sacrum to get my heels to the floor. “That’s three,” I would say internally as an instructor would twist what I thought were already very-much-in-line hips. “Five…” as an instructor would say, “Come out for a second, now tuck your tailbone under, now straighten your legs,” and with satisfaction in their voice drift away saying “Much better, good job.”

This is what I got after tallying my adjustments to others: I get adjusted as much – if not more – than all the other participants combined in a five-person class. Save for the class yesterday when a woman was very vocal about how she couldn’t get into almost any position, I get prodded, twisted, pushed, pulled, exhorted and tapped so much more than anyone else. I am not a beginner. In down dog I pull my shoulder blades down my back, rotate my arms, shove the floor away, push my butt up toward the back corner, put my heels down to the floor, suck in my stomach, and relax my head. And yet…oh, here comes the instructor to push me down further. Thank you, I appreciate it, but….what about her? Or him? That girl over there? How about the show-off at the front?

When my boyfriend took his first class, he got some personalized attention. But so did I. It was a humbling experience. Always the optimist, he told me that he thinks it’s because I’m so darn good, they just want to get me the last 10% of the way there. He observed in his drawing classes that instructors will be drawn to the best artists in giving advice. Thanks sweetie, but I’m not sure that is it…

So could you instructors out there shed some light on this, both for me and other students who have felt singled out? What draws you to adjusting to one person over another? I’m ready for whatever you can dish out.

BTW, that’s me in downward dog above.

About Alden Wicker

Alden Wicker is a freelance journalist and founder of EcoCult.com, a blog about all things sustainable in New York City and beyond. She also writes about electronic music, personal finance, and yoga for publications such as Well + Good, Refinery29, LearnVest, Huffington Post and Narratively.

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25 Responses to “Question for Yoga Teachers: Why Do You Adjust?”

  1. Yogini33# says:

    Wow, didn't KNOW that, Marie-Eve – thanks for giving away the store. Blessings be to YOU! There are financial reasons why I hate being adjusted!! … Don't need a dependency on the studio in my situation! Passive resistance … works with the aggressive teacher; but the first thing I should do–before class–is state that I am primarily a HOME practitioner and have no intentions of giving up my home practice … stating "I have no interest in 'advancing' " did not work, over a two year period with a studio– the more marketing-minded among them (particularly if they are less aggressive/more risk-averse) would leave me alone,

  2. I adjust for safety. I see my primary role as a teacher is safety. Secondarily, the feedback I get from students is that when they are in alignment in the pose, it feels better. They breathe better.
    Try practicing the yamas on the mat, and perhaps you'll see all this in a new light.

  3. susan says:

    I suspect that sometimes teachers adjust your poses when they know you better than other students, and they know that you will be receptive to their touch. They'll eventually go around to the others they know a bit less, but they feel more comfortable approaching you first. Sometimes an adjustment isn't as much about doing the pose better but about getting an extra-lovely sensation during the pose. It's a gift.

    • Txgirl9 says:

      I agree with you. When I was in college I took yoga and I always felt like my teacher adjusted me way more than the others, but now more than 11 years later I still practice yoga and I've began teaching it to children also. Consider it a gift and learn from it :)

  4. susan says:

    This boils down to all teaching, in general, and not just the teaching of yoga — "It's not about the Teacher, it's about the Student." The best teachers know this, and the worst ones may never figure it out. The same goes for assists — the newer teacher who's only just learning to assist/adjust will run around 'correcting' things that don't need correcting, and it can feel just plain awkward. But it's not personal — they're simply too nervous and self-absorbed to do it well. The experienced teacher, on the other hand, will step in with the gentlest of corrections and change your world entirely — or rather, they'll allow you to change your own world entirely by coaching you with a few delicate words, maybe a touch.

    • Tanya Lee Markul Tanya says:

      Loved this: The experienced teacher, on the other hand, will step in with the gentlest of corrections and change your world entirely — or rather, they'll allow you to change your own world entirely by coaching you with a few delicate words, maybe a touch.

      I

  5. Alden Wicker Alden says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments. There's a wide range of views here and it's been very enlightening. I love adjustments, I just wanted to make sure I wasn't doing something very wrong. I will practice gratitude every time a teacher sees fit to help me get into a position further.

    Thanks again!

  6. Shanna says:

    I depends. Sometimes it is random. I just happen to be standing beside someone. Sometime I systematically start at one side of the room and make my way through the room. Sometimes it is because I know a persons practice and where they need work. Sometimes it is because someone is new…It can be anything. Don't get caught up on it. Adjustments help your practice. You should be happy to get them.

  7. JaniceA says:

    I can completely understand that being adjusted might make a student feel like they are doing something essentially "wrong," but there is no "wrong" in yoga, there is just "better." So, of course, an instructor might adjust if they feel that a student might injure him/herself. But the other reason for adjustments is for optimal energy flow. Pushing the limit safely in the pose and opening yourself up more in the pose can help with the flow of prana or energy in the pose, which can give you a much more enlightening, relaxing or benefifical experience! I think that many students might feel like they are the only ones being adjusted, but that is because you may only notice when you are adjusted, and if you are totally focused on what you are doing and how you are feeling in each pose (which you should be!) then you may not notice when the instructor is adjusting other students. :-)

  8. belle says:

    I adore being adjusted. Its not possible to adjust me too much as far as I'm concerned. I am a teacher though, and we sort of get hysterical at the opportunity to have others lay hands on US at times :-)) If someone is performing a movement in such a way that it may injure them, I will provide information, and this may be in the form of a physical adjustment. Some people respond to verbal communication, even if it is shared with a group – they hear that instruction and integrate it effectively in their own bodies. Some people need to SEE something to "understand" it in a way that enables them to alter their own movement – you can talk about it until the cows come home…..Some people respond more to touch – "aha! THATS where/what she means…." Possibly someone has noticed that you assimilate information quicker this way? Also, as a teacher you sometimes feel when physical contact and adjustment makes certain people uncomfortable. Then you may choose not to give it, or to give it in certain ways so that you don't bang up against whatever is creating a barrier to that type of input, but move around or with it. I will sometimes take peoples hands and put them on their bodies to feel something, if I am aware that the are not comfortable with having MY hands provide that……there are so many ways to interact and communicate respectfully and lovingly with those you have the blessing of teaching and working with. Maybe the teacher has noticed that you are particularly open and welcoming of that input – as you say you like being adjusted :-))) At the end of a day, the beauty of any asana lies in the intention of the person performing it. That beauty is not dependent on the length of your hamstrings or the strength of your triceps x

  9. Rob says:

    As a student I adore being adjusted. As a teacher I like to adjust, and I like to think I am balanced in adjusting the whole class. I always focus first on anyone who may be doing something that cause them to get hurt. Then once I know that all of the students are safe I go around looking for ways to help people get more out of their pose. I usually can tell the people that like to be adjusted and those that don't. Maybe your teachers are picking up on the vibe that you are giving off which lets them know you welcome and enjoy their feedback.

  10. Kathy says:

    I will adjust students I know well and always ask if I can touch them first. I don't put my hands on newer students mainly because I don't know what's going on in their bodies and once I put my hands on them I can be held liable, even though they signed a waver.

    • Yogini33# says:

      How is it that you are liable, despite a waiver? For future reference only. I am not a lawyer and no longer a paralegal. Just curious. (Not that I am suing anybody.)

      • kathy says:

        http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=94
        Above is just one example of what has been going on. People do not care if they signed a waiver or not, if they feel someone hurt them they will get a lawyer and see how far they can take it. They may not win but is it worth the hassle?
        Just a P.S. I have never been sued I take this as a percussion mainly because I am a freelance teacher and not incorporated. (but am insured)

  11. ARCreated says:

    again I repeat this idea of adjusting deeper is a bit crazy to me…I adjust people to relax and let go and soften and usually that means they are going further than they should now…I invite people to approach slowly. with deepening adjustments that usually only comes to those that are very advanced and I know well and even then I ask if they want more.

    • Yogini33# says:

      I have seen the same teacher adjust out of a pose or even the unsafe use of blocks in attempts to modify (the latter in my case, but especially that I used too high of a block–I'd HATED that. If I'd felt I'd needed that much modification, I knew it. Marie-Eve is brilliant! Just don't move a muscle. Don't use a lower block. Don't allow your body to be a battlefield!). So, it's not ignorance, really. But if the energy in the room is to high or they are frustrated, or they have an agenda, or they are working with teacher trainees who are participating or assisting in the same class, things could go haywire …

      I remember being disturbed in my sleep the night before by noise, I came to class half asleep the next morning. The sub teaching the class had not cared. Every pose was adjusted by a teacher who was assisting the sub and if I'd felt like not doing something, I'd been told to DO it. When I collapsed into forward fold, a snide remark was made. What kind of teacher was this? What kind of class was this? I avoided taking that assisting teacher's class for a long time. Then it had got even worse. I finally stopped taking his class. Until I had finally experienced a world-class teacher at another studio, I felt this teacher was really exceptionally good otherwise and I was depriving myself.

  12. rick says:

    As Momster commented on above, in bigger classes I will adjust someone more often in the center of the room as encouragement to the entire class to observe their own alignment. With the advantage of having mirrors(Bikram) and along with my words, most of the class will work to make minor adjustments if needed.

  13. aem says:

    What is "normal"?

  14. Kristie says:

    I don’t often adjust physically unless I know the student really well… Otherwise I offer verbal adjustments (or adjustment with one finger touch) to prevent injury. Once I can tell the student is receptive and able to go beyond, I offer a deeper adjustment. As was said, there is no wrong (or even better) but you can move deeper sometimes in to your body’s expression of the posture. I also am a firm believer that you know your body far better than any teacher. If a teacher is adjusting and it doesn’t feel ‘right’ you have the responsibility to honor your body and tell the teacher that it is too much or even you don’t want the adjustment at this time. :-). Namaste!

  15. TamingAuthor says:

    Alden, consider yourself fortunate. There are many, like myself, that instructors move toward, then stop and shake their heads, realizing "adjustment" is an understatement. Your boyfriend is right. There are times when a few more deft moves with the chisel takes certain statues to the level of a Michelangelo and then there are times when the artist realizes a piece, no matter how much work is done, will end up in a roadside stop in Arizona where they sell fossilized trees and rubber lizards.

  16. Nikki says:

    As both a yoga instructor AND licensed massage therapist, I LOVE to offer assists.
    Sometimes, there is a safety issue.
    Sometimes, I know a (recurring/frequent/'regular') student is working with a certain issue/concern/asana and I am lending support to that end.
    Sometimes, there is a chance to offer some yummy depth, ease, relaxation or variety in the experience.
    Basically, my choice to assist is dependent on the situation and the person on the mat. If I have a newer student (to me, not necessarily to yoga), I tend to do fewer assists, as I am watching their practice and assessing HOW they experience their time on the mat. But, I will offer something to everyone in the room, no matter the rationale behind each individual assist, if I am offering a single assist to ANYONE! There are times where I have been 'imbalanced' in my offering, and I work to rectify that the next class (this usually happens in smaller classes with a core of attendees).
    Finally, as many have said before me, there are those people who give a vibe of 'yes, please!' when you come near them and you feel the invitation to adjust and others who give a 'no, thanks, not today' vibe and so you move on. I know (in my own practice) there are mornings I LONG for assists from the instructor, and I usually get them. And other mornings, I know I have more of a 'in my own space' vibe and I receive few, if any assists. There is definitely something to be said for the energy you are giving off and the type of attention you are (or are not????) receiving!
    Metta …. Nikki :-)

  17. Sybil says:

    I have the opposite problem…..I’d love to be adjusted MORE in order to assure correct alignment/posture but my teacher seems reluctant to do it. I’m not sure if it’s that she’s not confident in her ability to adjust OR….perhaps I’m just so darn good at asana that there is nothing to adjust. haha! :)

  18. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya says:

    A few years ago I attended a weekend workshop with around 30-40 other yogis, a teacher and his assistant. The teacher didn't do much adjusting, but the assistant was all over the room. I also noticed that I was adjusted MUCH more than the others…more like every single time. :-) It definitely felt humbling. I felt at the time that I wasn't completely open to it and that I preferred a bit more space. It also made me not want to return the next day, but I stuck through it. I was glad that instead of letting it hurt my ego and self esteem, I stuck through and felt good for peacefully doing so. I think our ability to receive, exchange and to give is changing all the time…

  19. yoga bear says:

    like the touch of the person……..as well as being guided into the pose correctly

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