Last weekend I led a workshop on the art of hands-on adjustments in yoga—how and why teachers touch students to enhance and accelerate their progress on the path. Devoting an afternoon to giving and receiving adjustments reminded me of the power of touch, possibly the deepest way in which a teacher can transmit her knowledge of yoga poses directly to a student’s body.
Hopefully, if you’ve been taking classes for awhile, you’ve experienced how a teacher’s hands easing you into a pose makes everything feel better and even possible! Especially those poses you just never thought you’d master . . .
That said, I find most students are fuzzy on why the teacher chooses to adjust them and when. The answer? We teachers lay hands on you for three reasons (in order of importance):
- TO PREVENT INJURY. My former mentor called this “putting out fires.” Teachers scan the room looking for anyone who might be in physical danger and hurry to restore them to safety. This could be as catastrophic as a student recklessly kicking up into handstand without being physically prepared, or as slight as an inward-turning knee that over time could shred your cartilage.
- TO GUIDE YOUR BODY INTO OPTIMAL ALIGNMENT. Very few of us can do “perfect” poses. Rather, yoga demands a lifetime of refinement. Plus, we can’t see ourselves, so even teachers slip into misalignments without realizing it. A skillful teacher knows when just the right amount of touch can put the body back into the healthiest expression of each pose.
- TO GO DEEPER. Sometimes we call these “feel good” adjustments, because just like a good massage, a great adjustment can melt stiff muscles, open up tight joints, and ease you farther into a pose than you could do on your own.
So that’s what the teacher is doing. Now for a few pointers on how you can best receive an adjustment:
- Breathe! If you stop breathing, your muscles will freeze and resist whatever the teacher is trying to accomplish. Allow for nice, slow exhales, as that’s when the deep release comes.
- Resistance is futile—soften! Again, if you don’t trust the teacher and fight what they are trying to do, no one wins! Nothing shifts in your body, and you’ve wasted your teacher’s energy!
- Remember where her hands have guided you, where you can go. How is the pose different from when you do it solo? Physical adjustments should instill “muscle memory,” an imprint on your body that you can recreate later on your own.
Finally, since a teacher can’t stop the flow of her verbal instructions to the class to explain each hands-on adjustment