Friday, February 10, 2006

Seventh Class

Week 3, Day 1

Adjustment Clinic

There are different layers of teaching objectives. The first objective is to teach even breath through the practice. The second is to teach the details of the specific pose, making sure the students are performing the poses safely. The third is to adjust students’ poses. In any teaching situation, there is nothing wrong with working on the first and second layers. Adjusting poses is a third-level objective. That said, David Life has written that “touch is powerful communication.”

Love, we touch our friends
Powerful connection to students
Massage – healing touch
Tickle – you can only tickle someone else, not yourself

Touch conveys more than words. It can convey attention. If you are distracted by anything other than your student while touching the student, you convey unintended meaning. Before you begin to touch or adjust, you should see the whole person first, then decide whether and how to adjust. There is no “standard” adjustment. Everyone will respond differently to an adjustment. You must notice how a student responds to an adjustment to guide the adjustment. It is absolutely critical that the student you are adjusting have 100% of your attention. So what do you do with the rest of the class while you are adjusting a student? Put them into a pose they can hold.

In teaching, it is important to establish a relationship of trust with them, and they with you. Convey confidence in interacting with students. Your credibility matters to them. As a part of that relationship, touch becomes increasingly important and powerful. If you’re not 100% attuned to the student, they’ll be harmed or lost.


All intention is transferred through touch. If you’re Mother Theresa, that comes through. If you’re feeling anger or self-serving motives, don’t adjust. If you have a student who creeps you out, don’t touch the student – otherwise you’ll convey your own issues via your touch. If you have the hots for a student, the same rule applies. If you can’t leave your own issues at the door of the studio, don’t touch. Students will pick up your intention, whether you want them to or not, whether it’s pity, a power trip, or just uncertainty. Seek to serve the highest good of your students.

Q: Should you ask before adjusting?
A: (Alanna) I don’t. For many beginning students, everything about yoga is uncomfortable. If you ask them whether you can adjust them before class starts, they may respond that they’d prefer you not to, and as soon as they do that, a wall has been formed between you and them. You can read the indications from students about whether an adjustment would be threatening or unwanted. And keep in mind that an adjustment may be nothing more than patting the mat where you want the student to place a hand. It needn’t be as enveloping as laying your entire torso onto the student’s back in paschimotanasana.
A: (Dave): Also, in response to a question like that, people don’t like to bring up their injuries or other conditions in front of other students, so you may not get the information you seek with the question. You should be trained well enough to know what you are doing. If you have any doubt about an adjustment, don’t make it. With practice and experience, you’ll perceive the students’ energy, and that will guide you.

Adjustments are right if your intention is right. What if your intention is right and the worst case happens anyway – a student gets injured? An injury is not the worst thing in the world. It is the body’s way of telling you something. And if it doesn’t happen on the yoga mat, it may happen somewhere else, but conveying the same issue. Most of the time, if your intention is right, your adjustments will serve your students. Note, though, that when you do get good at adjustments, you can find yourself on an ego power trip for that reason.

In making adjustments, keep in mind that touch is distinctively different than verbal cues. You can make a mistake in a verbal cue, and correct it without any harm: “Left foot, rather, make that right foot…” But incorrect adjustments can’t be so easily remedied.

Q: Gender specific concerns. Are there rules about how to make adjustments when the teacher is one gender and the student another?
A: Really it all depends on the teacher, the student, and what’s going on. If you get the wrong vibes, don’t go there. As you progress, you’ll learn to read people better. Sometimes there can be ego issues with adjusting guys, as they tend to have more ego and competition issues. But it really depends.

Be honest with yourself.

Try to get to everyone in the class in some way – even if it is simply verbally cueing them while making a touch adjustment on a single student. It is very important not to lose track of what’s going on with the rest of the class in order to adjust a single student. Always keep the class moving ahead. When you adjust, some students will start to ask questions, as if they are your only responsibility. If you set the right tone as the teacher, using shakti/power and presence, you should be able to avoid having a student try to monopolize your attention. If the student persists, just indicate that you’ll discuss it with the student after class.

Breathing. When making an adjustment, bring your breath into synch with the student’s. Keep your own back strong, and engage your mula bandha. The most important thing of yoga practice is the breath. The most potent adjustment you can make is to adjust breathing. One way is to stand next to the student, and breathe with them, audibly. When making touch adjustments, you deepen the pose on the student’s exhale. Connecting with the student’s breath is powerful – you are connecting prana – life force.

(Alanna) In years of work as a yoga teacher, I’ve never been injured by a pose, but I have been injured by adjusting others. When you adjust, you give the student what the student needs – not what you need, as it isn’t about you. If your dog died right before class, leave your tears at the door. Your students want you to be the perfect yogi. You want to give them as much as possible, so in every adjustment, put yourself second. If you’re in a yoga pose and breathing, you won’t be injured so long as you’re checking in and aware.

Connection to the Earth.

Before making any adjustment, notice how the student is connected to earth. Spine should always be lengthening. If you see a firm connection with earth, look to spine. If you see gridlock there, evaluate how to dispel it. When you start adjusting a pose, start at the bottom and work your way up, just as you do when cueing a pose verbally. Frequently, if you fix the foundation, many of the other problems will fix themselves. “Asana” means seat – relationship to the earth. Patanjali: seat should be stable and joyful.

The spine is also a good place to start. Make sure the spine is not gridlocked. Adjust as close as possible to the joint you are trying to affect.

Have direction.

Know where you’re going and how to get there before you start. If you’ve never experienced a particular adjustment, no matter what you think, you don’t know how to do it, because you don’t know what it feels like to be adjusted in that fashion. It is also impossible to be taught all adjustments in a teacher training class. If you see a teacher perform an adjustment you have not experienced, ask about it after class, have them perform the adjustment on you, you perform it on them, and then you find someone who will give you 100% honest feedback and you practice on that person until you get it right. Most students in class settings won’t tell you if you hurt them, in part because of the structure of the teacher/student relationship, in part, sometimes, because the students simply lack the body awareness they would need to be able to provide feedback. So it is very important that you give each other accurate and complete feedback as you practice on one another.

Art of invisibility.

In teaching and in adjusting, you don’t want the students relying on you for answers – that’s why we encourage you to avoid demonstrations of poses. The class is not about you. You want your students to get inside themselves. It is an art to becoming invisible – they can hear you and know that you’re in the room, but they know the practice is about them. For this reason, it is often better not to make eye contact with students while adjusting them. Besides, there are very few face-to-face adjustments. Even so, you should almost always be positioned so you can see the student’s face while you make the adjustment, as faces convey a great deal of information. Also, eye contact tends to feel judgmental to some students. It is better for the student to have the teacher’s presence, but not the teacher’s judgment.

Honor and acknowledge student’s pain.

If you perceive a student is in pain, respond by shifting position. But be aware of the relationship between fear and pain. Change of any kind is uncomfortable and creates fear, and sometimes that can translate into the experience of pain. Note, of course, that pain can be real, and it can indicate the potential for danger. But it can also be an indicator of fear. We’re always happy to stay in our comfort zones – but the zone of comfort tends to get smaller and smaller over time. We introduce controlled stress and discomfort to our students’ lives. Their minds will kick in and resist change when we do that. Discomfort causes fear; fear causes pain.

Pain responses:

Stopping breath
Going limp
Pushing back
Scared look
Breath rhythm changes

You have to be open to receptivity through your touch. You have to be skilled enough to guide students on a case-by-case basis. As you take them into a pose, breathe with them. As you back them out of a pose, breathe with them. All depends on the student. Don’t let students get away with stuff. Try not to coddle egos. Why might you do such a thing? To insure your own status as their teacher. To get repeat customers. To reinforce your own sense of belonging. It is ok to challenge a student, to take the student to her edge. People like challenges. Do you pop out of a pose because you are too tired physically or because you fear change? There is a fine line between allowing a student to back off and to push. The same ego will both push too far and back out too soon. Don’t ever lose faith in your students. That said, students can be incredibly difficult. Do everything you can to make them successful – but not your own measure of success – theirs. Always expand your comfort zone. Learn to lean up against sharp edges. When you do, you’ll find your comfort zone expanding. Lie on a bed of nails.

Regularity, Enthusiasm, Caution

When you’re regular, to your students, you’ll feel like an extra limb. Don’t move quickly, or you’ll scare the students. Don’t walk away from them once you have them in a pose – stay with them and support them in it. Too much enthusiasm will lead you to push students too far. When you are too cautious? Nothing is worse than a frivolous adjustment. Always adjust both sides of a posture that has left and right versions. NO FRIVOLOUS ADJUSTMENTS.

Taking Responsibility

You want to lead your students to the “aha!” experience. Each of you can tell your own stories about a good adjustment you received. They are memorable. It’s not just the pose involved – it’s Yoga. Those experiences build a relationship to a teacher, increases a student’s faith. We should do what we can to develop those experiences in our students. Touch will accelerate the learning process. You can convey so much more through touch than through verbal cues. Pattabhi Jois: “Progress is much slower without touch.”

When making an adjustment, visualize what you want the student to know from your touch. You must see in your mind what the highest potential is for that student on the particular day. Maybe it is just an inch higher lift. Your visualization will transfer to your student.

Sevah means service – it is the path of a yoga teacher to serve the student’s highest needs.

There are no rules to adjustments. Only exceptions. Yoga is for the individual.

Use a towel to dry off your hands between students. Wear appropriate clothing, and be sure your students are wearing clothing appropriate to the adjustment you are making. Be aware of the potential to pick up skin rashes from students. Wash your hands immediately following class.