How To Adjust Your Students Alignment



"Follow your nature. The practice is really about uncovering your own pose. We have great respect for our teachers, but unless we can uncover our own pose in the moment, it's not practice - it's mimicry." -Judith Hanson Lasater

What is the difference between an instruction and an adjustment? Between a good adjustment and an intrusive adjustment? And when should a yoga teacher allow a misalignment to go uncorrected?

You’ve had them: a welcome adjustment that opened up whole new worlds of aliveness. These are markedly different from heavy, forceful or a just plain icky adjustment that was either too much or not enough to be sure where they wanted you to go. We all know where the Goldilocks point is for us between too much adjustment and too little. Here are few guidelines to consider when reaching out to adjust your students’ postures, to assure your making an adjustment just right.

Consider that instruction and adjustment are a continuum. Some yoga instructors choose to never use hands on an adjustment, others rely upon them and apply them liberally. All yoga instructors use some verbal instruction when making an adjustment, and most integrate demonstration. Your first adjustment happens as you transition your students from their outside pursuits into the beginning of practice. The tone you set, the emphasis on breath, and your invitation to align their posture and thoughts at the very beginning will set the tone when making an adjustment throughout the rest of the yoga class. Consider using imagery and language in your initial introduction that you can easily refer to throughout the yoga class.

When To Make an Adjustment

As you move through the class, when you note people who appear to be struggling or missing the point of a pose, you might choose to make a verbal adjustment to a return to the breath, or to give a a general instruction about muscular engagement. Alternatively, you might demonstrate the posture standing next to or near the student whose posture you wish to influence. If the student is new to you or appears to be working towards the pose independently, you may choose not to interfere with their process.

If a student’s posture appears to be causing them pain, constriction or compromising a joint, it is wise to either make the adjustment or bring them safely out of the pose. An example would be a student in Warrior II with the front knee drifting inwards. After instructing that their knees should be over the little toe side of their feet, demonstrating how to achieve this, you might go over to a student who persists in the misalignment and gently but firmly touch the inside of the front knee without pushing and ask them to move their knee away from your hand.


The Proper Way to Make An Alignment Adjustment

When making an adjustment on a student, it is never appropriate to push or force a student into or away from a pose. The most dire and obvious reason is that you may injure them, regardless of how advanced your knowledge or fine your intentions. There is a reason they persist in their manner of embodying the pose; if the misalignment is so dangerous you must correct it immediately, it is better to bring them mindfully out than to press or force, especially at joints. Then you can instruct them back towards the yoga pose, assisting them in investigating the tendencies you wish to correct.  


When Not To Make an Adjustment

The more subtle point is that the main reason people carry on with misalignments is that they haven’t learned to feel or access the relevant muscles in their own body to make the adjustment. This perception and ability is at the core of what yoga teaches, inner perception and connection. By “putting” the student in alignment you crucially override their opportunity to learn to access the alignment on their own. For the same reason, touching the body part that you want to re-position while asking them to make the adjustment may take a little more time and attention, but will teach them not only about Warrior II, or whatever the yoga pose is you’re teaching, but will also teach them to access new capacities of perception, sensation and power which will carry over into everything they do.

Remembering that making a physical, verbal or demonstrated adjustment is all part of a continuum of communication will help you teach your students about the power of their own yoga, and not simply about making an adjustment for any particular yoga pose.

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