The Art of Adjusting in Yoga

I had a colleague help assist with my Rocket yoga class the other day. Its helpful to have another hand or two help with adjustments. It make me think more about how I adjust in classes and it may be useful to others as well. So here is a brainstorm of ideas without any order or priority:
-A helpful touch is always good. It doesn’t even have to be an adjustment. I’ve had teachers in my class who do poses perfectly. But I touch to reaffirm that we are in this together. Or we breathe together. That’s the best thing ever.
-I lightly touch and ask they move a bodypart in the direction of my touch. In Warrior 2, it may mean moving the knee outward to come in line with their toes. It is a very light touch without any force applied whatsoever.
-I’ve had teachers press lightly on my back foot in Warrior 2 to make sure its firmly grounded. Again, nothing forceful. I love the feel of the warmth of someone’s foot and the gentle guidance. I don’t do this one enough.
-I guess I adjust Warrior 2 a lot. I also work on alignment. People sometimes lean, so I move their shoulders over their hips. The back arm likes to droop too.
-There are many poses, like side angle pose, where yogis tend to internally rotate their shoulders. Often a verbal cue of "make your pinky finger lower than your thumb" is enough. But I often like to take their arm, rotate it back and around to external rotation. This will bring their arm in proper alignment.
-Some of Pattabhi Jois’ adjustments were brutal and improper. But there are several that I still do. With those who can handle it, I will stand on inner thighs in baddha konasana. I take off a little pressure by pushing on the back. I think I do that with two people and they love it. I wouldn’t recommend most of those adjustments though, like standing on someone’s back in kurmasana.
-Another from guruji that I do think is appropriate is laying back to back on someone while doing a forward fold. Again, I put almost no pressure on them other than my body weight. These types of body weight adjustments work great for many poses.
-A favorite of mine for wide leg forward fold and baddha konasana is to press my hands on the thighs from behind and kneel with my knees on their lower back. Again, light pressure all around. But it moves them in a positive direction.
-For standing wide leg forward fold, I love especially during version C to place one hand on the sacrum, then one leg slides inside their closest leg, and then I lightly press with fingertip pressure on the bound hands extended toward the floor. I also inform them how close they are to the floor. Then, they are encouraged to reach those final inches on their own.
-Another standing forward fold that I use less is to take my knees to their back or shoulders and lightly reach around to outer thighs and pull.
-Warrior I is probably the most adjusted by me because 95% of yogis do it incorrectly. Adjusting the feet is the most useful part. Instead of moving their feet with my hands. I place a flat hand on the floor in the same direction as their toes. And I place it next to where they should put their foot. Sometimes, they’ll have to move their foot 6-12 inches since they are oriented heel to heel and wide like Warrior 2. Not good! After I place their feet, then I square their hips with my hands. And, invariably, they always reach their arms up with shoulders in their ears. I grip the biceps and externally rotate pulling their shoulders back into their sockets.
-Speaking of hips, everyone gets adjusted in intense side stretch (parsvottanasana). Most people avoid the stretch of the front hamstring by shifting their hips back. Then their hips are all cockeyed. So I place my hands on their hips and have them shift weight to the front foot. This usually flattens the sacrum leveling the hips.
-With inversions, I’ll often hold their legs if they don’t quite have the balance. Ask which leg kicks up first, and then move to that side. They will usually hop up with that leg and you can grab it. KEY: make sure you only grab the one leg. Then other one will come down when they want to come down. Don’t force them to stay up!!
-Shoulder stand. I know some teachers don’t like this, but I do it often. To help take the pike out of the hips, I’ll lift at the ankles and move their elbows together with my feet. I find this extremely useful and very safe.
-While I’m a conscientious adjuster, I rarely if ever adjust child’s pose. You’ll see people with their hips 8 inches high above their ankles. There is a reason for that. Child’s pose is supposed to be a safe place. Its a refuge or sanctuary pose. They are vulnerable and can’t see you coming. So I never press on the hips to get them lower, even if they like or want it. Leave child’s pose alone.

Well, I could go on and on. Let me say this. There is a yoga teacher from India who does extremely forceful pressure in stretches. In the USA, you’d get arrested for that. There is a notorious picture of a gymnastics coach pressing young girls into splits with their feet on blocks. Its super dangerous and just plain mean. Don’t be that person. Do not ever create pain in a person. Most of our pressure is to encourage the direction of movement, its not actually to make a person go deeper. We never forcefully pressure yogis to go deeper. Most of our touch is alignment and reassurance. Very little of it is for depth.

Always make sure the yogi is breathing and breathe with them. Make it so they can hear you breathe with them. Then encourage on an exhale. There are actually times and places where you can safely be forceful. I do this to get a shoulder to the knee in marichyasanas. But getting a bind or pressing deeper should always be very light and thoughtful. If there is any sign of pain, encourage a safer depth.

In Thai yoga massage, we call our touch "loving kindness". The word they use is Metta. You are not there to create pain, or to satisfy your own personal pursuit to have everyone bind in kurmasana. Always give gentle assurance in your adjustments. Students will love you for it.

#yoga #yogateaching #adjustments #yogaadjustments #thaiyoga #thaiyogamassage

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