What do you observe?
Let’s start our discussion of yoga adjustments with what initially creates our desire to adjust a student in a yoga posture in the first place. The very first thing we do in the process of adjusting a student is observe the yoga student’s posture. There is usually something about the way they are doing a particular yoga posture that catches our eye. 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 in that moment.
It’s what we observe that initiates a response inside of us and a desire to do something about it. It could be something small or it could be something big. It is, however, our eyes that feed us information first. So, what do we see? Do we all see the same thing? I would suggest that we do all see the same thing, but how we process it is very different. In other words, the very same information is coming into all of our eyes, but we each have different filters that we use to process the information that comes in.
Let’s talk about that further. Our filters color and sift the raw data that comes in. What are these filters?
How we think the pose is supposed to be done is based on a number of factors:
- Our experience practicing the pose
- Books we’ve read
- Trainings we’ve taken
- Articles we’ve read
- How we were adjusted previously by our own teacher
- Method of yoga being practiced
- Injuries we’ve had
On and on the list goes.
My point here is that we are all looking at our students with a bias of one sort or another. The list above is a list for contemplation. I mention all of those items because I would suggest that, as purely as possible, we want to see the student as they are. However, if we want to help the student create positive change, then we also need to see them relative to the information that we have about the yoga posture. This guides us in deciding what needs to happen for that particular student in the posture while they do it.
It’s important that we acknowledge that there are two people involved when doing an adjustment: the teacher and the student. Both the teacher and the student bring their own experiences, biases, and variables to the adjustment. All of this experience works both for us and at times against us.
Being Aware of Our Own Bias
These experiences create a certain bias. They can create the idea that a pose is supposed to be done in a particular way and that the student needs to do “this” to do the pose correctly. We should be mindful of our own biases and what we hold as an ideal of a posture when we approach a student to do an adjustment.
Our students have different bodies and abilities than we do as teachers. We need to pay attention to the individuality that they bring to a posture. What the students bring to the posture should impact how we approach adjusting them. If the student is a beginner, intermediate, or advanced practitioner shouldn’t our adjustment of them change? If they are tight or flexible we’ll need to adapt our adjustment. Their age may be a factor we want to consider. Do they have injuries? If they do, we certainly want to adapt to that. Is this the first time that this student has come to our class or have we worked with them for a long time? The amount that we’ve worked with them should be a factor and affect our adjustment.
Our biases become critically important to have a handle on when using hands-on adjustments. If your biases are driving the adjustment you may not be paying attention to what you’re actually feeling and sensing as you do the adjustment. I would suggest that it’s at this point that the potential for injury goes up. In a sense the conversation between your nervous system and theirs is only going one way. You’re imposing something on the student from your bias as opposed to making a suggestion from your felt sense.
It is difficult not to let our own bias get in the way. I personally try to ask questions inside my own mind about who the person is and what their relationship is to their practice.
I ask questions like:
- Do they need to be slowed down or held back?
- Do they need to be moved forward?
- What type of personality are they?
- How well do I know them?
- Do they come to class regularly or occasionally?
- Do they have injuries?
- What would my short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals for them be?
- Do they need an adjustment at all?
Add as many of your own questions as you like. I wouldn’t call that an exhaustive list by any means. In fact our own bias can lead us to ask only certain questions!
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This month David answers the question: Should you contract or relax the glutes in urdhva dhanurasana? He explains why the answer should always be specific to the student.