constructive rest · subtle body · supta padangusthasana · yoga · yoga + adjustments · yoga teaching

Yoga Adjustments: Give the cue, then wait.

My group classes have been focused on the pelvic floor this month. Yesterday was the third of four sessions in this series, and we stayed on our backs through the entire class. I was teaching from my Tired-with-a-Dash-of-Cranky-Body place (although my spirits were sprightly!), which is why I kept everyone close to the ground.

This group is becoming quite familiar with their inner topography, and the personal mapping has begun. This process of refining is like reading Rumi aloud to your pelvic floor; you can feel spaces opening, muscles and sphincters pulsing and releasing with an ‘Ahhh!’.

We transitioned from the slow, internal work and moved gradually towards a few asanas and movements that required greater muscular effort. I moved up close to the students to guide the extension and rotation movements of ‘Supta Padangusthasana‘ (upward facing big toe hold pose). Once I had observed each person’s habitual movement pattern, and been reminded of how it is they receive, process and integrate, I was able to step in with verbal cues and hands-on guidance specific to each.

The ‘Ah hah!’ moments are priceless. But bringing students to the thresholds of those ‘Ah hah’s’ has been a long process, one which started long before I became a yoga teacher. I devote a lot of time, when I am training or mentoring others, to the following question:

What are the basic What, When, Where, Why (and Why Not) of giving adjustments to yoga students?  Here is the short list I’ve developed over the past 20 years:

  • #1. Teacher, Know Thyself: what personality types trigger your Happy Place (where a joyful interaction is imminent) and which ones trigger your Grrr! (where you feel yourself bristling in their presence and you may have no idea why).
  • #2. Know the physical situation of that particular student: their practice history; injuries, new and old; chronic medical issues; are they pregnant.
  • #3. Know the mental/emotional situation of that particular student: are they in a time of stability or transition; has something come up that has reopened an old wound; is something going on that is upsetting the apple cart of their emotional landscape (joyful or sorrowful).
  • #4. Know the material you are teaching, know how to make basic modifications to your offerings, and know when to switch your course if its not working.

Then, proceed with care.

  • Center yourself before entering their practice space (unless of course you are witnessing something potentially dangerous and you must step in swiftly to change the situation before someone is hurt).
  • Ask for permission to touch them, if you plan to put your hands on their body. Once you have established that this is acceptable to them (especially if they become, or already are, ‘regulars’ ) I think you can usually assume that touch will continue to be a part of your teaching method with them. However, it doesn’t hurt to re-check occasionally.
  • If they say ‘No’ to being touched, it becomes even more important that you find words and images that illustrate the point you are trying to make. Demonstrate for them if need be. Ask for their feedback, and continue to observe them to see if your cues are filtering into the area in question.

Finally, keep up with your own practice.

  • Take an asana, or a pranayama, or a very short sequence, and map (or re-map) it in your own body.
  • Has your feeling about that movement changed?
  • Are you able to find new insight, new imagery, more succinct or descriptive language?
  • Do you need an anatomy refresher?
  • Are YOU ready to go deeper, become a more intrepid explorer? Can you then find time, as you return from the outer regions of your own practice, to assimilate and process what you are finding?

Staying engaged in your process facilitates your capacity for staying sharp to your own students’ development. Hence the first instruction; teacher, know thyself.


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