January 10, 2014

Adjustments in the Classroom. ~ Guenevere Neufeld

I was in a yoga class recently in which the instructor gently asked if she could offer me an assist.

Upon my softly murmured affirmative she connected her hands to my body, and, in time with the rhythm of my breath, eased my right hip outwards as my torso settled and opened.

I had been adjusted.

The kind of yoga I offer does not include adjusting my students. This doesn’t mean I am against the concept entirely —clearly I must not be or I would not have given my consent to be adjusted. It does, however, mean that I have put a lot of thought into the reason why my tradition simply doesn’t adjust.

I’ve been trained to offer a particular kind of yoga in which the exact shape of a pose is not the end goal. Safety and correct alignment? Always. But my own manual manipulations to their form when I see an unresponsive student capable of following my verbal cues to open the chest, relax the shoulders, or tilt the pelvis? Not going to happen.

We know that there are dozens and dozens of different kinds of physical yoga not to mention the myriad of other forms. From meditation to offering ones services in karma yoga, from chanting mantra to cultivating a feeling of devotion, asana, the physical postures of yoga, is one way to approach the union that yoga translates to.

With all these different types of yoga to appeal to all sorts of different temperaments, it makes sense that within a subset there are now dozens and dozens of different forms of physical yoga.

Some of these approaches include complete and utter adherence to the shape of a pose. Yet here’s what I don’t get, while The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the ancient text on the physical practice of hatha yoga, does include helpful tips and how to properly cover your practice space with fresh cow dung, it doesn’t include in-depth passages on the alignment and precise placement of the parts of the body.

Don’t get me wrong, there are proper ways to do an asana and their are improper ways.

As a yoga teacher, one of the most important thing about holding space for a class is keeping everyone safe. That means clear and direct instruction followed by verbal cues and demonstration. If I see a student clearly moving into an unsafe position, the only responsible thing for me to do is help them out one-on-one if they aren’t responding to my words to the group.

Here’s the thing: everybody is different. That means every body is different as much as it means everyone’s mind, emotions, experiences and histories are different. I can’t tell you the many minutes I have spent in the past lying on my back in preparation for fish pose utterly terrified of opening up my heart in the back-bend. Or the subsequent emotional upheaval and reflection required upon lifting my spine in a new way one day in mountain pose and discovering emotional pain I didn’t previously know was there.

The mind and body are connected with a unifying subtlety that serves as a storehouse of my every experience.

My wounded child exists in the cellular memory of my flesh, somewhere in the tension of my hips residual self-judgment resides and in my often-slightly-raised right shoulder lingers a sense of responsibility that truly is no longer mine.

When yoga classes hold the space for all of these parts of me to emerge, I simply can’t handle someone else handling them; I want to do it in my own time with my own strength. When my intention is to merge these parts with my present understanding in the holy moment of now and convey compassionate acceptance, I can open to healing.

We are such fragile beings underneath the layers of personality, conditioning and socialization; subject to an interplay of forces that is beyond my capacity to understand. Tapping into that fragility with the strength only found in vulnerability is a delicate process, one that can be moved through with the movement of breath through the body and the body through asana.

There are many reasons for taking a yoga class.

I wouldn’t be able to integrate it quickly enough if every time I moved my body, ancient posture or not, my mind was inundated with places for growth. So I’m not going to have the intention to root them out in every class I take. Sometimes I simply want the atmosphere, and in those moments I’m going to let the teacher know that yes, I consent to being adjusted.

I don’t adjust because my training is in creating spaces for people to understand the subtle messages their bodies are telling them, not what I think a pose could look like in their body.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: arianne / Flickr

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