August 30, 2012

The Lost Art of Yoga Adjustments.

Photo credit: innacoz

Adjustments seem to be a lost art.

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.

But, we love ‘em. 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 out this video with Dr. Brene Brown:

You see? We’re all here to connect. In a yoga class, adjustments are the ideal way to do that. Our well being and mental 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 how touch deprivation affects people,  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 backbend that they are so proud of they tell their friends about for the next month.

The student stuck in a cramped half-moon is assisted into one that is easier and more relaxed—now it’s their favorite posture.

The students who can’t let go and relax in Savasana and are given assists to release their hips finally relax and fall 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.


Editor: Jamie Morgan

Adapted from Alanna’s article at Yoganonymous

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Reply to anouscka cancel

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anouscka Nov 2, 2012 7:04pm

It's as you said: you need to know about alignment and anatomy before adjusting anyone…and knowing that bodies do not necessarily meet the pictures of the asana. Having seen my share of well intended "adjustments" that did more bad than good, I sometimes explicitly ask not to be touched before class starts. I have scoliosis, a bulging and degenerative disc, a dysfunctional SI joint, hyper mobility in my vertebral column and what more, so in order to "protect" the overzealous teacher who wants to adjust me, I simply ask them to give their advice verbally. A good teacher should be able to do that.
I got the worst shock when during savasana, (when I take off to wherever") a teacher touched my shoulders, squeezed my ears and started rubbing an oil on my ears, which totally disrupted my savasana…Loved her class, but especially during that final part, you may want to stay clear and leave people in the sacred space.

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Alanna Kaivalya

Known as the “Yoga Doctor,” Alanna Kaivalya, Ph.D. helps yoga teachers broaden their knowledge, up-level their skills and create more impact in the world. She gives you clear pathways to earning a living and making a difference through your spiritual practice.

Her holistic approach to yoga The Kaivalya Yoga Method, a fresh take on yoga emphasizing the individual path while honoring tradition. Teaching students since 2001, teachers since 2003, Alanna has written and developed teacher trainings worldwide for top studios and independently. In 2015, she debuted a comprehensive 500hr-online teacher training with YogaDownload.

She holds a Ph.D. in Mythological Studies with an Emphasis in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, has authored numerous articles and three books: Myths of the Asanas, an accessible practitioner’s guide to stories behind beloved poses, and Sacred Sound, a yoga “hymnal,” illustrating the role of chant and mantra in modern practice. Her third book, Yoga Beyond the Mat, teaches modern day people how to build a personal spiritual practice through yoga.

Are you passionate about becoming best yoga teacher you can be? Start learning the skills it takes to be an alchemist of the soul right here.