3 Rules for a Successful Give & Take. ~ Clare Politano

Via elephant journal
on Jun 19, 2013
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Physical Adjustments and Consent in the Yoga Room.

For six months now, I’ve assisted my teacher in the Mysore room most weekdays. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and I’m full of gratitude to my teacher, the studio owner, and our students.

Here’s what I’ve learned during this time about the give and take of physical adjustments.

1. Teachers: Before adjusting a student for the first time, make sure you know each other. Introduce yourself, dialogue about existing injuries or sensitivities, and ask for permission to give the student physical assistance with a pose.

One of the first mornings I assisted, a student with whom I wasn’t acquainted came up to me after her practice with some feedback that surprised me. She introduced herself and requested that in the future, could I give her a little warning before giving an adjustment in forward folds or down dog—positions where she couldn’t see me coming. Receiving unexpected adjustments in those postures was disturbing to her because of experiences she’d had.

Talk about a paradigm shift.

I realized working with trauma survivors wasn’t just for volunteers teaching underserved communities. Physical adjustments are relatively intimate work, and you never know what your students have been through. Before placing your hands on a student, establish a relationship and identify boundaries.

2. Teachers: While performing a physical adjustment on a student whose body you don’t know well, ask if it feels intimate-adj-250x193okay.

Sometimes adjustments inadvertently cause undue pain, but the student doesn’t know it’s alright to speak up, or doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. I used to submit to unnecessarily harsh adjustments from teachers because despite the alarm bells, I respected their authority and assumed that they were just doing what was best for my practice.

Some of those adjustments left me in pain for days. It took a long time for me to understand this wasn’t just a normal part of the practice, and an even longer time to realize those teachers would have been horrified to know they’d hurt me.

3. So, Students: Please tell your teacher if an adjustment is too much. Don’t worry about hurting our feelings, or damaging our pride. Believe me, a good teacher will be grateful that you spoke up. If a teacher happens to react badly—well, that’s good information, too.

It’s easy to opt out. As a teacher approaches, say “Not today.” If a teacher is pushing too far, try “That’s a little much.” There’s no requirement to explain your decision or apologize, although a dialogue after class might prove productive for both of you.

The truth is we don’t need consent cards to cultivate a safe and comfortable studio environment. We need communication, and the understanding that consent goes both ways. Teachers, ensure that your students feel comfortable. Students, give your teachers the information they need to assist you safely and effectively.

What would you add?


Clare Politano

I live in Washington, DC, where I practice and teach Ashtanga yoga and assist two area Mysore programs.

A social media and communications professional by day, I’m passionate about nutrition, sustainability, cognitive psychology and behavioral economics. Massager of raw kale, hydration enthusiast and standing evangelist. Connect with me on Twitter.




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editor: Thaddeus Haas


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8 Responses to “3 Rules for a Successful Give & Take. ~ Clare Politano”

  1. @pegmulqueen says:

    i really love this! sometimes we feel too embarrassed or shy to admit an assist is too much – as if it's a reflection on us and/or the teacher. it's not a judgment on either, just necessary and good information. ongoing communication is a vital piece of all relationships – thanks for helping to remind us all of this!

  2. Scott says:

    Great post.

    The two things I would add are: 1) Don't Assume and 2) Be specific.

    1) Students find some postures to be really "hard" and others to be really "easy" no matter what the rubric says. Case in point, I can get into supta K with very little difficulty. It has never really strained my body. But revolved triangle hits where I injured my hip in JUST the right place so I always need to go a little easy with it. And most would say supta K is alot "harder" than revolved triangle.

    2) In more difficult adjusts ask if there is a particular way the student likes to get into the pose. There are tons of subtle differences in how people get in and out of poses. In marichy D I need to put my weight back pretty far in order to get the twist to stick correctly, then I lean forward and bind. Others lean forward, pressing their chest on their thigh to get the necessary leverage to twist deeper. Neither is wrong, but no teacher would have a CLUE which one of those students I am unless I communicate that clearly.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Peg! It took me so long to figure out it was okay to give my teachers feedback. I'm hoping to save everyone that step!

  4. Alli says:

    I am a person with a neuro-muscular-autoimmune disease. The wrong adjustment can cause me pain and problems for MONTHS. I can't explain in a few words such as "rotator cuff tear". My problems are complex and, honestly, even experts have trouble wrapping their minds around it all. Yet I come to the mat for the same reasons you do and because it is a help to me. Sometimes I ask not to be adjusted and teachers do it anyway. You'd be surprised at how often! Seriously, it happens all the time!! Or I will be almost "ordered" into proper form when I am in a modification that works specifically for me and my body. I guess my point is that each student truly comes to you from a different place. Not only ask permission before adjusting each time but explain what the adjustment is, if it is the first time with that particular adjustment on that particular client. Assume nothing. And, please, listen to the client and be receptive and welcoming. It's not easy for us to speak-up especially about injuries and illnesses. Also, If I say it is okay to touch me to show me which part of my body needs to be moved, touch me but don't assume touch means push or pull. Because I "look" healthy teachers too often assume, "oh she just needs this little nudge to get her really into the pose". But the thing is, those little assumptions can set me back in pain healing and productivity sometimes many months. Those setbacks also have emotional consequences. I know y'all want to be good teachers but you have to listen, listen, listen and assume nothing. Really. The communication needs to be two ways always between you and each client. It's harder that way for you. I know. But you didn't sign up for easy. It is part of the journey.

  5. Thanks, Scott! I think that is a really good point to not be overly committed to the narrative of "hard" versus "easy" postures, and to remember that each body is different! Your second point is also true – students often require different adjustments for the same pose (and sometimes the same student needs different adjustments for the same pose on different days!) Two very good points for teachers to keep top of mind.

  6. Wow, Alli, thanks for sharing your story and perspective. It's all too easy for teachers to look at a student that appears healthy, like you said, and assume he or she could handle an aggressive adjustment. I'm sure you get tired of explaining it, but I do hope you try to dialogue with teachers before class, when there's a little more time to discuss your needs as a student!

  7. Clare, I'm curious where you found the photos? They are both from an event I held some years ago. I wrote a blog on adjusts/assist for Ele and I'm wondering if pics we use for our blogs are available for all.

    Thanks much.

  8. elephantjournal says:

    Hi Maureen,

    The photos are in our media library and unless you specify that you do not want them reused, we do often use what we have for other blogs. I would be happy to switch the photos if it's an issue.