February 22, 2012

Intimate Yoga Adjustments.

“What is an ‘intimate’ yoga adjustment?”

My non-yoga-practitioner husband asked me this question when I was filling him in on a conversation that took place earlier this evening after a teacher training practicum class.  Hmmm… how do I explain this to a non-yoga student in a way that is easily understood.  Well, herein lies the glitch—the description of an “intimate” yoga adjustment is a matter of opinion.  Some people feel that if an adjustment is coming from a place of support and good intention, then anything goes.  I am not in agreement with that philosophy because that does not take into consideration what we do not know about each student’s life off the mat.

I believe that any yoga assist or adjustment (assist-helping the student get into a deeper expression of a pose by using your hands and/or body; adjust-moving the student’s body to correct alignment first, then moving toward the assist) should enhance the student’s experience in a way that does not distract their attention from their practice.  For example, if a teacher is providing an adjustment and their hand is in close proximity to the student’s butt, chest or genitals, or if a male teacher is giving a female student a Downward Facing Dog adjustment from behind—this may be distracting to the student.

Here are some important questions to ask when providing adjustments:

1. How well do you know your student and how long have they been practicing under your guidance? Are they comfortable with adjustments? How does their body respond to different types of adjustments given their body limitations and other postures where they are more flexible?
2.What is the intention of the adjustment?
3. Is there another way to approach the adjustment to attain the same result?
4. Are you certain that this student will appreciate this particular adjustment in this particular way?

Some of the best assistance to students can be verbal assists—where we allow the student to experience what is possible by gently guiding with words.  My teachers taught me to know the intended result before entering a student’s space to provide any adjustment. And in the spirit of that advice—if you are unsure about an adjustment—don’t do it. Sounds simple, but not all teachers abide by this.

In a time when we are reading about “yoga wrecking our bodies” and teachers having affairs with students, we need to uphold the integrity of yoga and be mindful of how we interact with our students.  The connection between two people in a way to optimize present moment awareness and the possibility within an asana. That’s one of the main goals of any adjustment, so omit the “intimate” part of the adjustment to be certain that it’s an amazing experience for your student.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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