Sunday, May 4, 2014

Art of Adjustments in Yoga Class

On Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you), I was inspired to write a post about adjustments in Yoga Class.  While I have studied Hatha Yoga (Sivananda), Ashtanga (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois), Iyengar (B.K.S Iyengar), and Vinyasa (Sri Dharma Mittra...), I am grateful for having wonderful adjustments in class.  I have also enjoyed taking new classes, experimenting with various styles of yoga including Anusara, Hot Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Acro Yoga, all in efforts to keep a positive and open mind, taking myself outside of my comfort zone.  Like everyone, I have a preference of style and teacher that I tend to gravitate to.  While I do like to keep an open mind and support new teachers, I also know my body, and if I feel an adjustment is not what my body needs in that moment, I have gestured or whispered to the teacher while in class. 

Ultimately, we are wanting to quiet the monkey mind, so if a teacher can take me to a place where my physical body blissfully swirls in fluid movements that are devoid of distractions, I am grateful.  As a teacher, it is important to understand the body, especially when adjusting.  I have heard horror stories of people getting injured in classes, and teachers giving painful adjustments, which result in injuries.  This should not be a reality.  Since it is an inward practice, I always prefer to say that our injuries are our biggest teachers, when we study the chakra system we understand the injury is a physical manifestation of unresolved mental fluctuations.  It is easy to blame yoga, blame the teacher, blame the snow that we had to shovel, but what happens when we look inward is liberation, which is the purpose of yoga. 

As a teacher when I train new yoga teachers we spend a good amount of time on adjustments.  The reality is, as nervous as some students are to be touched or adjusted by the teacher, some new teachers are equally nervous to adjust the student.  Much like the yoga practice is a practice, it is also a practice period for new teachers to get used to adjust different people into different poses.  The main reasons we adjust students is to ensure safety & alignment in poses, to bring people deeper into the pose, and to provide support when a student may not be able to maintain balance.  It is important to note that every body is unique, with their own history of injuries, physical limitations, fears etc, therefore every adjustment should be unique to the individual.  The goal should never be to get the pose exactly like the teacher/photograph, but to be able to breathe deeply in the pose to the full extent of that individual practitioner.

Here are some helpful hints to approach the art of adjusting.
  1. Lose the nervous energy, when you are calm the student will feel that.
  2. Ground yourself so you can provide adequate support for the student.
  3. Notice their breath, Cue their breath, and move them with the breath. 
  4. Notice their face and toes for tension, adjustments should be done when face is relaxed.
  5. Notice their foundation, once they are secure....gently place your hands and adjust
  6. Stay with the student during the adjustment, and support them out (it's not a game of tag).
  7. Be gentle with your hands, (no need to make it a wrestling match)
  8. If you adjust on one side, be kind and adjust the other side too. 
  9. Keep your hands away from bathing suit regions.

The reality is, every pose has their own proper adjustment methods.  There are books and classes revolved around the concept of adjustments.  In a private class setting there is more freedom for adjustments, whereas in a group class the teacher needs to maintain the collective consciousness of the group, and still be ready to provide hands on adjustments when verbal cues are not enough.  Often times a gentle hand, accompanied with a clear verbal cue is enough to guide a student to safely get deeper or aligned into a pose.

This inspiration came from a recent post on Facebook where a video of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was posted in the early days, that depicted some very intense hands on adjustments.  There were different opinions of the adjustments based off the footage, and everyone is entitled to their own view.  While I would say Ashtanga Yoga is one of the most intense approach to asana practice out there, I feel like it has evolved and grown like many forms of yoga.  I have not had the honor to practice with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, but I have practiced with incredible teachers who learned from him, and respect the fact that he was one of the yoga masters who brought yoga to the western world, and inspired what we popularly refer to as Vinyasa yoga, Flow Classes, Power Yoga etc..  While some teachers get certified, open studios and have the honor to guide people to the practice of yoga, it is important to respect the Gurus of India who started a worldwide movement that is truly a spiritual practice.  When we get to that place of undisturbed mind stuff, we embody the eight limbs of yoga, we see all things with beauty, understanding and gratitude which as teachers, should be our ultimate goal. While I practice ashtanga and vinyasa, I do it because my body enjoys the challenge, yet I do not recommend it for everyone.  I enjoy taking Iyengar classes, because an entire class that focuses on my trochanter forces me to quiet the monkey mind like nothing else.  Stay positive and grateful with every breath.

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