Adjusting Beginners

On Tuesday, I assisted an Introduction to Yoga class for the first time. The lights in the room were dim, the air was hot, and the students were anxious (for most, this was only the 4th yoga class they’d ever taken in their lives). There was a feeling of uncertainty in the air, as if they were asking themselves: “What’s the deal with yoga? What’s all the hype about?”

As I walked around the room, I observed the students to see who was straining themselves, who wasn’t trying very hard at all, who was flexible or inflexible, and who was resisting the class altogether. Pregnant woman in the back: check. Inflexible woman in the back: check. Flexible girl in the center: check. Resistant man in the front: check.

During my training, our instructors taught us that through the simple act of touch, we can transfer energy from ourselves to another person. So I wasn’t surprised when the instructor teaching this class pointed to the resistant man at the front of the room and said: “He needs love.” The instructor was right. As I walked into the man’s field of energy, I could instantly feel a wall. He was upset or angry and didn’t really want to be there. He was clearly resisting the poses; when I made suggestions as to how he could alter them, he just shook his head and said “No.”

This is where assisting gets challenging. Do we continue to stay in that person’s field of energy even though we might not like how they receive us? Do we try to push over their barrier just a little to show them that a kind and gentle yoga touch can be therapeutic?

I decided to ask the resistant man I could adjust him in savasana to which he nervously responded: “Sure. Whatever.” I then placed my hands on the sides of his head and slowly moved my hands along his ears to elongate his neck. I didn’t actually pull on his neck but rather concentrated on transferring positive energy into him as a way to show him how to make his own self-adjustment: Relax the neck. Lose the tension.

Since, unfortunately there are some horror stories out there about yoga instructors making rough and painful adjustments on their students, here are a few key points to remember while adjusting students (source: The Trouble With Touch):

1. Ask first. (I always ask before adjusting my students. You never know if someone has an injury that they haven’t told you about or simply does not like to be touched.)
2. Be grateful. (Even if you feel different types of resistance coming from your students, just be grateful that they are trying to learn the practice of yoga. And that they chose your class over others.)
3. Check your intentions. (Be careful not to approach a student with judgment when making an adjustment. As Richard Miller says: “Touch should help students open to right where they are-not to where the teacher thinks they should be.”)
4. Be open. (Be open to the possibility that your adjustment didn’t help the way you thought it would. Don’t be offended if someone turns down an adjustment. Let that student grow in the only way he or she knows how to.)
5. Do your inner homework. (Before you approach the student, note what kind of energy is coming from you. Are YOU, as the instructor, angry about something? This will transfer through to the student so be sure to meditate ahead of time to clear your mind.)

I don’t know if my adjustment helped the resistant man at all –he never told me– but at the very least, I’m hoping it encouraged him to keep practicing yoga.

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