The objective of an adjustment is to be an extension of the student – helping to guide the student into a deeper state of body awareness and feeling. One of the most important things a teacher needs to reflect on and ask themselves is why they are doing the adjustment in the first place. What is the intention of the adjustment? A few intentions to note can be the following:
- Help students move into a pose correctly and safely
- Help students create more space in the body
- Help students feel the muscular stretch in their body
- Help students ease into relaxation into the pose
Hands-on adjustments are one of the most intimate experiences to offer a student during their practice. As a yoga teacher, you want to be an extension of a students practice to create a greater physical experience in the body. The last thing a student wants to feel is unsafe, or an adjust that is ineffective to their body. I’m going to share with you a 3-step process that I find to be most effective when it comes to building confidence and direction when adjusting. Remember that adjustments, like yoga poses, take time to refine and get better. Approach adjustments that are familiar in your own body, and approach them with ease until you begin to grow greater confidence with assists. I hope these few rules of thumbs help to guide you into a greater depth of teaching.
Work with the foundation of the body
Hands-on adjustments are one of the most intimate experiences to offer a student. A physical adjustment is a direct and personal form of communication that goes beyond simply ones desire that he/she ‘ought’ to adjust, where I think is the reason most adjustments are served ineffectively. The very first thing we do in the process of adjusting is to first take an honest observation of the student. For example: observe their posture – are they slouching? Are they singing in the waist? Adjustments begin with our eyes and what they perceive. We then filter that through our own experiences with the posture. From that place, we approach the student and try to deepen, correct, or support what they’re doing. This decision is based on a comparison of our own experiences and studies of the pose relative to what the student is doing at that moment.
What To Look For In Posture:
- Spinal Alignment/Curvature – Are they hunching the upper back? Are they collapsing into the lower back?
- Shoulder Tension – Are they holding unnecessary tension around the shoulders and neck?
- Facial Tension – Are they holding unnecessary tension around the face?
The most important thing to do before giving an adjustment is to determine your intention. This means observing the person in front of you and being clear about why you’re adjusting him or her. Before adjusting, quickly determine the following: Are you trying to help a student with alignment? Or help find a deeper expression of a pose that they might not be able to find without your assistance? Are you adjusting a student in order to prevent injury? Or maybe they need to find more space for their breath? Know your intention before placing hands on a student so that your adjustment will be direct and useful.
- Teaching a technique of how to do the whole or part of a posture.
- Re-patterning the way in which they’re already doing something.
- Simply supporting the pose they’re doing
- Grounding the person and the pose
- Deepening the pose
- Determine the purpose of the stretch. Is it grounding? Twisting? Hip opening?
- Determine the lines of the energy of the stretch. How would you initiate the stretch in your own body?
Lines of energy:
You then also want to determine the lines of muscular energy in the student’s body. For stretch to be felt in the body, their needs to be two opposing pulls of energy to ‘stretch’ the muscle. Every pose will have different lines of energy. This can also be considered its lines of energy – energy along the lines of the body, drawing muscle to bone and connecting limbs to joints as the energy moves ever inward and away from the body’s core.
How can you guide them deeper into their stretch? Physically? Emotionally? This is where you can apply some of your observation and personal touch towards your adjustment to the student: A few examples are:
- Reminding them to breathe
- Staying with them the entire stretch
- Verbal cues
- Bring awareness to certain areas
3. Foundations of the body
Once you’ve observed the body and determined the intent of the adjust, now you have got to work with the foundations of the student body: are there any injuries? pregnancy? Pain? And/or general limitations of the body? These are important body aspects to note during class to prevent any injuries from occurring during or after an assist. The key foundations to work with are:
- Injury(ies)/Limitation of the body
We aim to bring the spine back into neutral during cool down. Therefore, it’s important that we are aware of the students’ spinal position as students may not be aware of it. Common spinal alignments are swayback (over-arching in the lumbar), hunchback (over-hunching in the thoracic) also known as Kyphosis. Be aware if your student shows signs, and encourage to lengthen and bring awareness to the student before you take them into deeper stretches.
It’s key to move with the breath of the student – on the inhalation you lengthen and bring awareness, while on the exhalation you adjust and deepen.
On the inhalation:
- Diaphragm rises
- The lungs expand and compress due to the diaphragm rising up
- Muscles in contraction mode
- Oxygen is held in the muscles and body
- Diaphragm releases
- the lungs release
- Muscles relax
- Oxygen exchange is made
Injuries/Limitations in the body:
As teachers, we need to be aware is students have prior/existing injuries and/or limitations in their body. Sometimes less is more in these cases when it comes to adjusting. In the case of existing injuries, rather than deepening a stretch, you can offer modifications or verbal cues to let the student explore the stretch deeper using their own feelings. We all have limitations in the body: tight hamstrings, tight hips, tight shoulders, etc. Be very mindful of how deep a student is able and willing to go by communicating and using your judgment. Here are some response cues to follow: Signs It’s just right or to go deeper:
- Breath is steady
- Muscle is soft
- Face relaxed
Signs to back off:
- Shallow breathing
- Rigid Body
- Face scrunched