In Class: Adjustment & Assisting Guidelines

Fundamental Point of View

Remember, You are Teaching Yoga

Throughout this process of learning to see and relate to students, remember that you are teaching yoga, not trying to get people into poses. Keep coming back to the principle of yoga as a practice of process, not of attainment. Try to look at each student as the unique and beautiful person he or she is in the moment. Explore how you can share what you are seeing in a way that helps the student to see more easily and clearly and to feel his or her own body, breath, and practice. Keep watching, keep breathing, feel your heart. — Mark Stephens

Before Class Begins

  • In order to safely adjust students, teachers need to know if any students are injured, pregnant or have other relevant conditions.
  • In addition, in order for students to feel comfortable opting out of adjustments for any reason at all, giving them the option before class is a good strategy. Some teachers have students place sticky notes or other indicators on their mat indicating their choice to have or not have adjustments.

Cultivate Ability to See

  • Be grounded in body and connected with breath.
  • Concentrate fully on seeing the student, despite potential distractions from teaching to full class. “Figure that if teaching class requires 100 percent of your attention and focus, assisting students will require 200 percent!” (Jill Abelson)
  • As possible, soften and broaden gaze, endeavoring to see and feel student in a big picture way.
  • Engage in a mindfulness practice (i.e. call in the Witness or Observer) to stay abreast of internal reactions while observing and interacting with students.
  • Feel, empathize and imagine what student is experiencing.

Make Observations

  1. The top priority is to note if the student is practicing the pose in a way that increases risks related to physical safety.
  2. Prioritize concentration on the student’s foundation. Avoid focusing on other aspects of pose until you are sure the foundation is aligned, solid, balanced.
  3. Observe the student’s spine for optimum, safe alignment.
  4. Observe student’s breath and overall comfort including signs of tension, resistance or fear.
  5. Assess student’s physical capabilities and challenges.
  6. Observe student’s body awareness.
  7. Note where student appears to be focusing her effort.
  8. Observe alignment in feet, calves, knees, hips, collarbones, arms, shoulders, and head.

Observation is Essential

Observation is essential. Allow the student to come into the posture and give yourself a second to look at them before you jump in. It’s essential to realize that not every adjustment is right for every body. Someone who is showing hypermobility in their knees doesn’t need to be pushed further into a forward fold. Walk around the student and take a look. See where the joints appear overburdened, where energy seems stagnant, where there is an energetic leak or imbalance, and then decide which adjustment you want to give. – Kyle Miller

Considering Whether — and How — to Assist

Address major misalignments and/or potential for injury first, followed by foundation issues, minor misalignments, stress/fear response, then other enhancements to outer form, and then fine tuning for the inner body. – Jill Abelson

  • Consider if student practices regularly. You may wish to minimize hands-on work with beginners, focusing primarily on alignment corrections for their safety.
  • Consider if student has mindful breathing. Most adjustments are done with the student’s breath.
  • Ensure student is injury-free. Ask before class starts which students have injuries.
  • Ensure student is comfortable being adjusted. Noticing how student responds can be helpful and more clear is asking ahead of time which students wish to avoid hands-on adjustments.
  • Become crystal clear about the purpose/intention of assist
  • Assess whether there is time to provide the assist before leaving pose.
  • Consider the types of assists you can utilize, including targeted verbal cues, demonstration and hands-on adjustments that bring alignment and those that encourage the student to self-correct.

Feed the mistake

We look at correcting imbalances by gently nudging the movement pattern in the wrong direction, essentially making compensations more apparent… In the yoga world, the scenario may look like like a client whose front knee is caving in during Warrior 2. To feed the mistake I would apply gentle pressure to the leg just above the knee causing the knee to fall further in. The client then will immediately press their knee back out to avoid collapse. This is the exact opposite of the common yoga adjustment technique of pushing the student’s joint in the correct direction…

Why I am a fan of feeding the mistake? Instead of assuming that the student is engaging the right muscles once I encourage a joint back into place, I can know with more certainty that they have found stability on their own when they become aware of their compensation. If the client doesn’t wake up the sleepy muscles then they will continue to collapse. Feeding the mistake requires the client to be in charge of correcting the compensation. They have to use their muscles to overcome the additional force of the assist like any other form of resistance training. The beauty of this technique is that the added pressure is gentle enough that there is a very minimal risk of injury in comparison to other more invasive hands-on techniques. In the end, every teacher will find the techniques that they feel work best and will make decisions on a case-by-case basis after assessing the needs of each student. – Juliana Lopez