The topic of hands-on adjustments is one that is often hotly debated in the yoga world.
There are entire training modules and workshops designed to teach the art of assisting. There are some schools of thought that say that all students should receive some form of physical guidance from a teacher—and others that claim that all adjustments should be verbal only.
Some teachers are huge advocates of hands-on adjustments, whereas others avoid them entirely, citing safety concerns; and while some students love a teacher’s guidance, others will specifically request not to be touched.
As both a teacher and a student of yoga, I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum—receiving and giving adjustments that may have been unwanted, as well as receiving and giving adjustments that were extremely well-received.
I won’t even begin to pretend that I’m any sort of expert on giving a good assist; rather, I’d like to share my experience about learning how to receive.
I remember being a beginner student and spending the whole class hoping and praying that the teacher wouldn’t come over to me and draw attention to the fact that I clearly had no idea what I was doing. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I (or my ego) hated the feeling of being helped, of being fixed.
Being adjusted felt like something shameful; an embarrassing reminder of my lowly status within the class. I didn’t know how to receive these adjustments, these corrections I felt I did not need.
One day, I was in a workshop—quite possibly my first as a beginner yoga student—when the teacher came over and gently adjusted me in Natarajasana (Dancer’s pose). And suddenly, a pose that had once been challenging and confusing and difficult made perfect sense to me.
No matter how many times I had heard the verbal cues, I didn’t quite understand how to express those words physically in my body until somebody actually took my arm and my leg and showed me the way.
And if I hadn’t been making that mistake and if the teacher hadn’t taken the time to see this, come over and assist me, I might still be practicing a dangerously misaligned Dancer’s pose today. Since then, I’ve come to truly appreciate the value of a solid hands-on adjustment. I look forward to those moments in class when a teacher approaches my mat and I know that I’m being acknowledged, that I’m being supported and encouraged to grow.
Ever since I shifted my perspective from adjust to assist; correct to challenge, my practice has flourished because my understanding of difficult poses has been heightened by my ability to receive the guidance that I need to get there.
I’ve realized that from my experience as a student, the question isn’t whether or not a teacher has the right to place his or her hands on my body—the question is whether or not I am humble enough to accept the fact that sometimes, even my own understanding of my body is not always complete.
Growing up in practice and in life is all about learning how to gracefully receive support and assistance, even when you don’t think you need it. It’s about allowing yourself the space you need to make mistakes and learn from them.
It’s about letting people in.
This is the art of adjusting: learning how to receive. Above and beyond the physical strength and flexibility I’ve gained from my practice, I’ve learned how to ask for help when I need it—whether it’s approaching a teacher for tips about a challenging pose after class or reaching out to others for guidance during times of confusion.
Yoga has helped me to develop more clarity around the situations I’ve learned I can’t always navigate on my own and feel into the necessary alignment of physical and mental openness and humility I need in order to accept the guidance that always seems to appear at the most opportune moment.
At the core of it all, there is the sweetest interplay between what we put out into the world and what we receive—the more that we can let go of the idea that we have all the answers, the more room we create for knowledge to reveal itself to us.
I am ever grateful to my practice for teaching me how to receive and laying this foundation deep within my soul.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
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