Popular Teachers' Corner

Learning to Love Yoga Adjustments

My 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training is winding down, with just another week and a half to go as I write this. Last night we had a session that I’d been looking forward to, but also kind of stressing over.

It was our first class on adjusting. What’s stressful about that, you ask? Well, for context, you need to know I’m a 50-year-old married man … and all six of my teacher training tribe-mates (and our teacher) are young women in varying relationship statuses.

So I was going back-and-forth between “Isn’t this gonna be great, learning how to help students into proper alignment?” and “Isn’t this gonna be kind of … weird?”

Quick answer to the second question: it was only weird when I was thinking it might be weird. Once I, um, “adjusted” to the fact that I was just learning about another (and crucial) facet of teaching yoga, I was fine.

We paired off and our teacher led us through basic adjustments for Child’s Pose, Down Dog, and so forth. I was a bit tentative at first, but my partner cracked me up by telling me to “be more of a ‘man’ about it.” What I took from that was to stop treating her like a fragile glass figurine who’d shatter under even my most delicate touch. Once I did so, it actually felt like I was making a positive difference to her alignment.

I’d like to say I was a grownup the entire time and never got all giggly, but all of us kind of “lost it” when our teacher demonstrated the “veterinarian” adjustment for Down Dog. For the uninitiated, this involves standing behind your down-dogging student, crossing your arms, and reaching between their calves (or higher) to rotate the legs inward. But once I actually tried doing the adjustment (and experienced receiving it), all I thought of was, “Oh yeah, that really works to put you in the right position.”

At the end, though, our teacher demonstrated a variety of head-to-toe adjustments that can be made to a person in Savasana. Seeing this, I kind of thought, “Welllll, that may be a little too … something … for me to do right here and now,” and said, “I’m gonna sit this one out.” Luckily for me, my teacher and classmates encouraged me to get (way) out of my comfort zone.

So, I took my turn being adjusted, and it helped me relax even further into Savasana. When it came time for me to adjust, I paired up with a different classmate, and went through the sequence of making adjustments to her while our teacher walked me through it (and while the rest of our class looked on … no pressure!).

But here’s the thing. I did fine. No negative feedback from my “adjustee,” our teacher, or anyone else. And that’s when it really hit home for me that, no, I wasn’t cheating on my wife or being a creepy old dude. I was learning how to help make yoga an even more positive experience for another human being. Nothing “weird” about that!

Yoga teachers, how did you get comfortable with adjustments? Students, how do you feel about them?

Photo via Bad Yogi community member Ciaran McCloy

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Alex Edwards

    October 12, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    I do think as a yoga teacher it’s pretty much a requirement to be comfortable with bodies and touching bodies, but… I think some YTTs encourage adjusting everyone all the time way too much. If I give an adjustment, it’s with a student that I know and who has consented to my touch, and I’m doing it because there’s not a better way to help them (by verbally offering an instruction, demonstrating a pose, etc.). Bodies are all just so different and everyone’s experience with touch is so different, I always err on the side of safety and comfort.

  2. Chuck Vadun

    Chuck Vadun

    October 12, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Hi Alex! Although this post focuses on me feeling like a weirdo with regard to “touch” adjustments, I should give credit to our teacher training program for also spending time on verbal and demonstration adjustments. Plus, all the books I’ve been reading say essentially the same thing as you do … be thoughtful about what’s best for the student! Thanks for your comment!

  3. Kaitlin

    Kaitlin

    October 12, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    I agree… was super hard for me to get into this during YTT! But, really, savasana assists are the BEST! Thanks for this, Chuck!

  4. Avatar

    Dwayne

    October 15, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    I attend some Jivamukti classes, and their teachers give rather enthusiastic/forceful assists. This is often helpful (for instance, I was once assisted into a deeper “sleeping tortoise” or supta kurmasana than I ever imagined possible), but I can sense some injury risk. I’ve never had to ask the instructor to back off, however.
    I am not a yoga teacher (never will be), but as a male with a corporate background in two firms with sexual harassment problems, I would never even consider giving assists due to fear of harassment and/or injury liability issues.

  5. Chuck Vadun

    Chuck Vadun

    October 16, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Kaitlin … I’d be curious, were you able to get all of your adjusting “hours” in during your YTT? Or did you have to keep doing adjustments in classes taught by other teachers even after you finished your YTT classes?

  6. Chuck Vadun

    Chuck Vadun

    October 16, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Dwayne … good points, I’d be curious to hear from others on this topic. I’m grateful that my YTT program stressed getting permission before offering hands-on adjustments, as well as teaching us about alternative ways (verbal/demonstrative) adjustments.

  7. Amanda Sides

    Amanda Sides

    October 18, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    One thing that helped me get more comfortable with touch was taking a Thai bodywork course! All that hands-on time gave me a really good concept of appropriate pressure and location, which translates perfectly to adjusting yoga poses. When I’m teaching, I tend not to adjust/assist very much, mostly because there’s just not much time in a big class after I’ve looked for and corrected the glaring and could-be-dangerous alignment errors, usually with verbal or visual cues. In smaller classes I do more hands on, especially for savasana (my guideline is if I have eight students or fewer, I have time for savasana assists!) A good assist is delicious when the teacher knows what he/she’s doing….otherwise I think there is some danger for injury if a teacher isn’t aware of limitations during the assist, which you can only know by feeling in each individual.

  8. Chuck Vadun

    Chuck Vadun

    October 18, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    Amanda, thanks for your comment, interesting about the bodywork course! My dilemma is like, “I don’t want to mess this up when I’m teaching … but I’ve got to DO it to make sure I don’t mess up.”

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