There are a number of good reasons to think about the ways in which you do yoga adjustments and set up your body mechanics while doing them.
- Protect your own body from stress and injury.
- Create a more effective and efficient adjustment.
- Be more adaptable to the situation.
- Deliver a more controlled and steady assist.
That should be enough to get you thinking about WHY you want to focus on and put some effort into good body mechanics.
What are “Good” Body Mechanics?
- Positioning your body well
- Taking advantage of your own or your student’s body weight
- Bending your knees
- Effectively using your legs and larger muscle groups
Position Your Body
Ask yourself, “Why am I putting myself where I am in relation to where the student is oriented?” Where do I need my weight to be? Do I feel grounded and steady where I’m positioned? Am I positioned so that I can adjust my own position to adapt to the student if needed?
Positioning yourself relative to the person you’re adjusting is one place where good body mechanics show up. Depending on your own height and size, you will probably have to adapt your position in an adjustment to your student’s height and size. It’s easier to adapt if you are taller, because you can always bend your knees or kneel on the floor if the other person is shorter than you. It is more difficult to position yourself well when you’re vertically challenged and you want to adjust someone who is particularly tall. In this case, good body mechanics might mean a lighter touch and more verbal cues than physical adjustments.
You also want to consider where you position yourself in relationship to the other person. For instance a general rule that I apply is to face the person you’re adjusting. It’s not uncommon to see yoga teachers position themselves so that they are twisted and facing a different direction than the student. This can lead to long-term strain on your own body as well as making the adjustment less effective and efficient. See the images below.
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Find Your Own Center of Gravity First
If you are adjusting someone and taking them out of the line of gravity or off-balance, for example, in a standing forward bend, pay attention to where you position yourself. If you’re taking someone off-balance, then it’s your responsibility to place yourself so that you can help the student maintain a sense of stability. This usually means placing yourself in front of the momentum of fall. For example, in a standing forward bend, placing yourself facing the student with your knees on their back supports their weight and gives them a visceral sense that “you’re there” and “you’re not going to drop them.” It’s especially important if you are taking someone off-balance, that you yourself feel stable and steady when taking their weight. Don’t forget to return the person back to a place where they can take over holding their own weight BEFORE you shift your own position and let go of them.
Bend Your Knees and Drop Your Center of Gravity
Another general rule that I apply is to keep some softness in your knees when you’re adjusting and assisting. This allows you to move and adapt more quickly to changes in the student. Keeping your legs straight, especially if you’re bending over, can put stress and strain in your lower back. It also leaves you prone to being knocked off balance more easily. If you can be knocked off balance easily, then it’s possible that the student can be as well.
Dropping your center of gravity by bending your knees also allows you to create a stronger and more stable foundation in your student. There are many postures, especially standing postures, where bending your knees while adjusting students will help ground them and keep them stable. Creating a sense of grounding is important for students to feel safe while being adjusted.
Relax As Much As Possible
Something that I often come across when I teach adjustment workshops is people holding onto a lot of tension in their hands. The tension displayed in the hands is often reflective of a level of tension in the rest of the body. Obviously there has to be SOME tension in your body, but I would dare to call it a relaxed tension. In other words, strive for enough tension to create the adjustments but not more. It’s almost as if your body is soft on the outside but firm on the inside. Most of all, relax your hands. Your hands are the most common point of contact between you and the student and they are also the most common point of information gathering. In other words, you can receive a lot of information through your hands if they are relaxed. If they’re tense they won’t feel nearly as much information coming back into your body.
Use Your Body Weight Intelligently
Use as much body weight as possible when it is appropriate for what you are doing. If you can use body weight, then you won’t need to create as much tension in your own body. Reducing tension and physical work leads to less stress on your own body. This leads to efficiency and ease of movement which requires less energy output on your part.
We can use our body weight not just when leaning onto someone, but also to pull and ground students into a posture. Just because we’re using body weight doesn’t necessarily mean that more pressure is put onto the yoga student’s body. We’re just choosing to minimize the amount of effort required to adjust a student’s pose when we use body weight instead of only using muscular effort.
Effectively Use Your Legs and Larger Muscle Groups
Learn to use your whole body appropriately so that you don’t wear out your arms and hands. Your lower body is likely much stronger than your upper body. You can manage your own energy level and reduce fatigue by choosing the best tool for the job, rather than always defaulting to hands and arms.