Adjustable

I have always been an A student, a perfectionist, an overachiever.

The first time I received an adjustment in a yoga class I felt like I had earned a “B” on that pose — like I had been doing something “wrong”, and the teacher was “correcting” me.

Well there’s a reason it’s called an adjustment and not a correction, and as my practice evolved I realized that I love adjustments. They always take me into a deeper (and sometimes safer) expression of the pose, and I can feel everything click into place under the skilled hands of a teacher.

Any discomfort I previously had with a teacher touching me disappated as I realized that yoga teachers view the body scientifically. They aren’t looking at flab, errant hairs, or curves in the wrong places. They’re looking at bones, muscles, joints, and alignment. It’s the mark of a true professional when a teacher can wrap her arms around my waist in down dog, without making me feel uncomfortable.

So, as I’ve traveled along the adjustment journey, I now enjoying receiving. However, I am a bit wary of giving adjustments. In YogaFit (at least for the first few levels) they teach verbal adjustments addressed to the whole room. If I see a student whose knee is past her toes in a lunge, I’ll address the whole class with a verbal reminder. Usually this works, but sometimes people don’t have the body awareness to realize I’m talking to them.

I’ve gotten comfortable giving adjustments using my hand as a guide to where the body should be. I’ll place it on the floor and have them walk their foot towards it, I’ll hold it in the air and have them meet it when they’re over-extending in triangle. But I’m light years away from doing something like this:

even though I know it’s a lovely feeling, I’m just not ready to take it there yet. Maybe with time I will be able to do it outside of the gym setting.

At the gym, there’s little chance I’ll ever give an adjustment. People don’t come to the gym for that. Even the physical setup of the room — I teach on a “stage” elevated from the rest of the class by about a foot — makes adjusting seem like correcting.

Any suggestions from fellow teachers on this? Is there a time when it stops feeling forced to adjust students?

I’d also love to hear from students who have gotten adjustments that felt wrong, awkward, or uncomfortable.

PS – While writing this post, I remembered two blog posts from other lovely yoginis where they discussed the same thing. Check out LaGitane at Yoga Gypsy and Babs at Babs Babbles on adjustments.

PPS- And for Yoga Gone Wrong, check out YogaDork’s take on that inane teacher in Couple’s Retreat. Apparently Vince Vaughn has his own opinions about adjustments.

PPPS- All of this talk about Giving and Receiving makes me think of The Giver, one of my all-time favorite books and my selection for our book club this month. Check it out at Amazon if you haven’t read it.

PPPPS- haha just kidding. I swear I’m done now.

Namaste,
Jamie

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10 responses to “Adjustable

  1. Wonderful post, Jamie! I thought I was the only one whose insecurity flares up on occasion when I get adjusted by a yoga instructor. It still happens, although less so. I prefer to see it as a lovely, caring gesture and, as you said, a gift!

  2. In my classroom (granted its not yoga), I run into this on a daily basis. I want to help student correct their writing, but I don’t want to discourage them. I try and load them with praise about what they’re doing right, and then point out (almost as an afterthought) what needs work. Or sometimes I help show them what a good paper they have and tell them how they could make it a “great” paper, they usually fill with pride and want to achieve the next level.

    I hope that helps. And…as someone that has taken one of your classes, you are an amazing teacher.

  3. At first, I was the same as you. Getting adjustments made me feel like I was doing it horribly and that I just wasnt ‘making the grade’. I have come to love adjustments. For one, it makes me feel like the teacher is really paying attention to the class and wants the best for us (though I am sure all teachers do). Secondly, I want to do the pose right, so having a teacher that tells me how to do it right, is exactly what I need. I mean after all, that is why I go to a yoga studio rather than just following dvd’s at home – to have the teacher adjust my poses to the right way.

  4. I don’t have much input as we just started learning hands-on adjustments today! I think it just comes with time and getting to know your students to be more comfortable with putting your hands on them! As the teacher today said, “it’s all about the mileage”- once you’ve got loads of teaching experience under your belt it will come!
    Currently I am too concerned with saying the right words (not bring the elbow to you ankle as were were instructed during eagle in practice teaching today haha)! to think about hands-on!
    keep us posted :)
    P.S. how is the chicobag working out for you?!

  5. i also like adjustments…. but… sometimes i really don’t want the teacher to touch me. And sometimes I don’t want them to push or pull while I’m in down dog- it’s more difficult to say no before it hurts. (i have really tight hammies).

    In any case, since I’m not a yoga instructor though…

    I could tell you that from a student’s perspectives I really really like the subtle movements that you described. they are less invasive and usually do the job for me.

    I recently attended a mysore class and FINALLY i get the term ‘crank’ with regards to ashtanga. I didn’t go any lasting damage, but man that was way too hands on.

    but for those beginners, sometimes more firm guidance is needed- because like you said they don’t have that body awareness.

    I’ve also realized that achieving that pose can be a gradual process- so although the instructor my verbally guide me, maybe this week I’ll get hand adjustments and next week it will be a different part. I can’t in any way process that much instruction- so bit by bit the pose is built. Takes the pressure away from the teacher in assuring absolute perfection in pose and away from the student, for achieving it. :)

  6. I’m so glad you brought up this topic! I just attended a class today in which I received some truly profound adjustments. Subtle, but so very effective. And she did not make me feel as though I were doing the poses incorrectly. She simply showed me how to deepen “the work.” I made a point of thanking her after the class.

    Also, we’ll be studying adjustments this coming week in my teacher training program. I know it’s a sensitive issue for many people, and I would never want to make someone feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Discussions like these are helpful.

  7. Thank you all for the input. It sounds like we’re all coming from slightly different places. Eco, I had never heard of the “Crank”, so I googled it and found this:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-cahn/five-words-that-do-emnote_b_250065.html

    pretty interesting.

    Callah- I love the bag! I am gearing up to do a giveaway of my own and want to include the bag in that post. So I’m waiting on a few more details and then I promise I’ll post about it. : )

  8. So coming from the yoga novice perspective… as well as someone that’s never been the ‘touchy feely’ type, I’m not too big on people touching me or individually correcting me. Actually, it’s probably been my biggest cause of anxiety when going to yoga classes or other group classes (at the gym, mind you!). I just don’t like the idea of the instructor coming over to me one-on-one and then everyone looking at me as she points out what I’m doing wrong. But I think if it were in the right setting though, like you said, a smaller, more intimate class and the instructor somehow asked me if it was okay to touch me beforehand, then I’d be alright with it. I’d feel more comfortable that way.

    I’m not sure how you could do that, other than maybe saying something at the end of the class about how you may start giving adjustments now that you see your students advancing, so if anyone would not like that to just let you know after class. That would make me feel more at ease that at least I had the option of saying, “Nah, I’m good! Thanks though!” :)

  9. Great post, great topic and so timely. My fellow yogis and I have been talking about this very thing recently with lack of adjustments by some teachers.

    I’ve been a student for quite a few years now and having experienced many different teachers, the only adjustments I don’t like are the soft ones which make me feel really uncomfortable. It’s usually not an adjustment at all and quite possibly the teacher might now know how to adjust or feel confident in what they are doing. It just feels weird.

    As a general rule I don’t like anyone touching me but in yoga, go for it! I’ve even had teachers lie on top of me. I love adjustments and when done right, they take me so much deeper and to a level I didn’t realise I could go. When I practice at home though I tend to hang back a bit and probably due to fear of the unknown. This is another reason I go to classes so I can get beyond that fear whilst being guided by a teacher who will guide me safely and push me when I need it.

  10. I definitely think it’s easier for yoga beginners to become almost upset by adjustments- like they are doing something “wrong”, exactly as you said. That’s how I felt at first, but now adjustments make me understand certain poses so much better and helps them come more naturally.

    Love reading about your journey into teaching!

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