Important: Considering Why NOT to Assist: Adjustment & Assisting Guidelines

There are perhaps more reasons *not* to provide hands-on adjustments than there are to provide them. In many cases, it isn’t safe or appropriate to adjust a student. Examples include:

Student Situations

  • New to yoga
  • New to the teacher
  • Injuries or particular medical conditions
  • History of unresolved trauma
  • Uncomfortable with touch due to cultural perspective, personal history or issues related to body image

Teacher Experience

  • Not trained in adjustments
  • Haven’t gained enough experience with adjustments
  • Uncomfortable giving adjustments for any number of reasons

Other Ways to Communicate Teaching

  • For some types of teachings there are simply other — and sometimes better — ways to communicate information to a student than through an adjustment.
  • For example, if you are trying to encourage self-adjustment based on increasing ability to rely on one’s felt-sense, then teaching students to use internal sensing and/or their own hands would be better techniques. (More here.)

Watch Out For

Teachers might (perhaps unknowingly) desire to assist and consider these less appropriate indicators:

  • Student “doesn’t look right” so teacher feels a need to try something.
  • Teacher learned a cool adjustment for the pose and wants to show it.
  • Teacher likes to show her skill in a pose.
  • Teacher feels she needs to “do something” or demonstrate expertise.

Knowing the Correct Assist

The teacher’s assistant came over to me and pushed the base of my skull forward and down—hard—three times.  At best, an assist like this results in misalignment of the atlas, the flat bone supporting the skull, leaving you with a case of the dizzies for three weeks (this was me). At worst, I shuddered to learn, this type of pressure on the underside of the skull, or occipital ridge, can cause a mini-stroke by constricting delicate blood arteries leading to the brain… After my neck injury in Savasana, the teacher told me after class that he “wasn’t sure” if his approach was right. I talked him through the correct assist, and reminded him it’s OK not to touch people unless you’re 100% sure of what to do. – Jill Abelson

Considerations for Why & Why Not to Assist

I believe that yoga teachers need to stop acting like stretching machines and exerting leverage on students’ bodies to intensify or “enhance” a stretch. Why? The answer is simple: This is a mechanically flawed approach to working with bodies and it results in countless avoidable injuries... I’m not saying that experienced teachers shouldn’t provide appropriate manual feedback… There is nothing better in class than receiving an excellent manual cue… A good yoga adjustment skillfully communicates the actions of the pose to your body so that your body understands the posture more clearly. A bad adjustment is invasive and misguided. During lousy adjustments, the teacher is either working with a lack of experience and information or an abundance of ego. – Jason Crandell

Times Change

I actually learned to teach yoga asanas with my hands. That’s because I spent several years assisting other teachers… And, in those days, when you were assisting a teacher, you didn’t want to talk over the teacher while helping an individual student, so you would help them silently through gestures and hands-on adjustments to their bodies. So, I got very comfortable communicating with touch back then… I confess in those days using your hands to teach was so much a part of the “tradition” at the time that I never really thought about asking for a student’s permission first. But that was then. Now I understand that for many people, hands-on assists or adjustments make them uncomfortable or worse. It can be triggering for people who have suffered trauma or abuse. And there are other people who just don’t want to be touched for any number of reasons! Then there have definitely been teachers out there who misuse the practice by giving adjustments that feel, well, more like caresses or sexual overtures or are too strong, which can be frightening and/or dangerous… So a given person might want to receive adjustments in one class but not in another, especially if the teacher is new to them. – Nina Zolotow

No One Size Fits All, and No One Choice That Applies in Every Situation

My sense was that under the guidance of someone like Maty Ezraty, with clear intentions and decades of experience, there was no question that I felt confident in her adjustments as being appropriate and necessary to communicate the teachings. Yet, in another scenario – say with a teacher I had only just met, or didn’t have as much respect for, or maybe they were male and I felt attracted to them, which could cause a misinterpretation on my behalf from the adjustment – those kind of adjustments would make me uncomfortable. Probably to the point of asking that teacher to not adjust me in that way. – Michelle Jayne

Keep Questioning Yourself & Having the Conversation

Adjustments can be powerful, but they also give teachers the power… If many adjustments are innately powerful on the part of the teacher, why do we need to do them? Let’s start that conversation. I am not advocating that yoga teachers should refrain from adjusting students; nor am I saying yoga students should not enjoy being adjusted. But we should ALWAYS question why having someone’s hands on our body or placing our hands on someone else’s body is necessary to experience yoga asana. – Rai Lowe

Reasons Not to Adjust

While physical adjustments are a very direct way to correct your students’ alignment and help them find more opening or release in a posture, they’re also a very personal experience. And because it’s downright impossible to know all of your students’ personal, cultural, and other boundaries when it comes to touch (not to mention the physical limitations that can potentially make your touch injurious), a number of teachers are taking a hands-off approach to adjustments in asana classes. Here, top yoga teachers share their go-to noncontact strategies– Jen Murphy