Adjusting Yoga Postures… Why Bother?

June 27, 2015
Adjusting Yoga Postures… Why Bother?

Let’s start with some basic, but important, questions about adjusting yoga postures

Doing adjustments or assists while our students are practicing yoga can be beneficial in a number of ways as we’ll see below, but it’s important that we reflect and ask ourselves why we are doing the adjustment in the first place.

  • What is an adjustment?
  • Why do an adjustment at all? Is it necessary?
  • What is it that we are trying to accomplish with an adjustment?

The answers to these questions can vary greatly depending on whom you ask. I am certainly not here to say what the right answer is to any of these questions. I am here to engage in a conversation about them and hopefully encourage more thoughtful consideration about why we’re doing adjustments at all.

In this series of posts on the fundamental principles of hands-on adjustments, I want to convey basic ideas that can translate into your own experience. There is no rule that says you have to do the adjustment in the exact way that I do. Perhaps just start there and see if it fits with your own body and the student you have in front of you.

What is an adjustment?

Good hands-on adjustments are an opportunity to teach and/or retrain certain patterns and ways of moving that we see in our students. Essentially, we are observing existing neuromuscular patterns of movement and changing them with the intent to create a better long-term pattern that serves the evolution of students.

Why do an adjustment at all?

When I run workshops on the subject of yoga adjustments and assists, I often start by posing this question to the group: What makes a good adjustment? I ask them to think about this from the point of view of a student who has been adjusted in various postures.

Take a moment and write your own list.

Here is a list of commonly heard responses:

A good adjustment…

  •  teaches technique
  •  feels good/right
  •  is clear and focused
  •  is appropriate
  •  heals
  •  has a clear intention
  •  creates change
  •  takes a student further than they can go on their own
  •  is safe and effective
  •  shows confidence
  • is relevant
  • uses good body mechanics
  • honors the trust between teacher and student

This is a good starting point and is fairly broad. It gives us an idea of the positive benefits that can be derived from, and inspire us to do, an adjustment. I often follow this up by asking the students to describe what a bad adjustment is.

We very quickly realize that a bad adjustment is the exact opposite of the list we just wrote down.

A bad adjustment…

  •  doesn’t teach the student anything
  •  feels bad or wrong
  •  is unfocused or confusing
  •  is inappropriate
  •  harms or injures the student
  •  has no focus or clear intention
  •  is ineffective
  •  is unsafe
  •  lacks confidence

Feel free to expand on both of these lists. They start to head us in the right direction of considering what we are doing and why we are doing it in the first place.

The list above particularly relates to hands-on adjustments and assists of yoga postures. This is not to discount the power of verbal adjustments, energetic adjustments, or no adjustment at all. In fact, I would suggest that all of these should be used and often simultaneously.

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A good adjustment is…

Alright, let’s look a little closer at a few of the components of a good adjustment.

A good adjustment teaches technique

I would suggest that every posture is made up of a combination of strength, flexibility, and technique. Those are the most basic elements that we are going to work with. That does not discount the use of breath, however, I would include that in the technique.

Can you teach strength or flexibility? No. What you can do is teach technique that leads to a better understanding of where strength comes from or how to gain more flexibility in an appropriate way. By using a combination of verbal and physical adjustments, we can guide the student in a very direct way, into or out of, a posture. Adding in verbal cues during the hands-on adjustment can enhance the experience by coloring in details while the hands are guiding.

A good adjustment is clear and focused

This topic fits in closely with a few other items on the list such as intention, confidence, and feels right or good. Being clear and focused while adjusting your yoga student’s postures is extremely important because it is connected to so many other pieces of good adjusting as well as the true essence of what yoga is about. That is, being present and aware of this very moment.

If you’re not clear about what, why or how you’re doing an adjustment, the student is going to pick up on that. They may even tighten or resist what you are doing either physically or mentally. If this happens, the potential for misunderstanding, injury, and ineffectiveness goes up! You are heading down the road toward a bad adjustment!

A good adjustment can take a student further

This is probably one of the more popular ways to use an adjustment, that is, to deepen a posture or show a student how far they can take their posture. Physical adjustments definitely have the potential to take a student further and deeper than they can go on their own. The caution here is that, when you head down this path, you’ll most certainly be playing with the edges of the student’s range of motion. When you play out on the edges, the potential for change is great, but so is the potential for injury. As you adjust or assist yoga postures with the intent of taking the person further than what they can do on their own, keep that in mind. We will explore this topic further in future posts.

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Remember that hands-on adjustments are one tool that you have as a teacher to support your students’ practices.  Adjustments can also take other forms, for example, verbal adjustments or props.  The important part is that you as a teacher use the most appropriate tool for each person in that moment.

Let’s conclude by saying that there are a lot of moving parts and pieces to consider when adjusting yoga postures. Both the student and the teacher need to come together in a meaningful way to have a positive outcome. Be present, come up with your own list of what makes a good adjustment, and share it with everyone below in the comments!

Be sure to check out the rest of the posts in this series: Fundamental Principles of Hands-on Adjustments: Observing Yoga Students Before Adjusting Their Posture, Yoga Adjustments and Good Body Mechanics, and Yoga Adjustments: Feel and Sense What’s Going On!” And, check out my Hands-On Adjustment DVD!