Ever since I started practising with a teacher who’s very hands on in class I’ve wondered about the role of adjustments in yoga asana. I’ve deliberately not read much about the theory, though I get the impression adjustments are a highly contentious issue, given the potential for harm — whether physical or psychological. For now I’m trying not to analyse too much (it’s a trait I have!); I try just to release into them — ever since an early “don’t resist me” command during an adjustment when the whole experience seemed too totally bizarre for me to go with!
I got a completely different perspective on adjustments during the immersion I did recently. Not just the production-line nature of the teacher offering adjustments along a row of yogis with a confident, almost brusque, efficiency that is very different to my usual classes, but also in the partner work we did. The majority of the participants were teachers, so it was a fantastic opportunity to learn something about how to adjust, but also to receive some great assistance from people who already know what they are doing. It was fascinating discovering to what degree you could see and/or feel what someone else needed and sense how they responded to your touch. For me it was really exciting to be able to offer some hands on support, as well as verbal cues, that had a very obvious effect in the particular asana we were practicing. I guess this proves what they say that you don’t need to be able to execute a pose to be able to teach it!
When I was very new to yoga and every asana was just a confusing arrangement of limbs and jumble of instructions, an adjustment could quickly teach me something very obvious about alignment or bring my awareness to tension I was unconsciously holding (like Vira 2 shoulders creeping up towards my ears!). As an inveterate sufferer of ‘imposter syndrome’ this personal attention also gave me encouragement that my fledgling practice too had its place and was as worthy of care and attention as someone with a more ‘advanced’ practice. And, as I’ve got some basics under control, adjustments from the teacher now help me explore slightly more subtle connections in anatomy. Physical guidance speaks more than a thousand words and can convey information even without breaking the quiet focus of asana practice.
But I’m increasingly aware of something more subtle going on, some transferral of energy, some communication of the intention of a pose that just isn’t susceptible to verbalisation. It’s not just a structural adjustment, a coaxing of limbs to lengthen and sinews to relax (with ‘just’ doing very heavy lifting in this sentence!). Amazing though that feels physically as a longer/stronger/deeper pose, I find increasingly that my perception of my body in space is changing. At a crude level this happens with a gentle hair-pull in Ardha Chandrasana that encourages me to lengthen from the crown of my head and expand into a bigger, more energetic shape hanging in space, feeling almost infinite in some special yoga-dimension where gravity no longer applies in the usual way…
But beyond even that (and that’s pretty magical in my world), I think maybe the shared experience of a pose is also part of it. I feel for a moment that my teacher is participating in my yoga, grounding himself to support me, synching our breath for a few moments, and offering me some new way of inhabiting my asana. This is a physical expression of the broader student-teacher relationship with a good teacher opening up the possibilities for a student, unlocking doors or allowing connections to be made, rather than telling how it should be.
My teacher gave me an adjustment recently in Janu Sirsasana. It’s a pose I used to enjoy, but hamstring-wise I’m now cautious and tense, so any help is welcome. Anyhow structurally I’m not sure what he was doing. Working my hips more level I think, and encouraging me to keep straighter in the thoracic spine? But his verbal cues during the adjustment were on a different level entirely. He told me to “be greater than you are” or something like that, not to do anything actively but simply “to observe”, and as he encouraged me to sit taller and keep my chest open he suggested that I “offer it up”. Outside of that moment it all sounds kind of crazy. But at the time all I felt was a connection, a sense of him helping me go somewhere (but not get somewhere) that was nothing to do with deeper folding or pushing my nose to my shin. Completely the opposite in fact. He was allowing me to feel more comfortable — and not just physically — in a lighter expression of the pose. This was the moment to experience that wonderful mix of connection and release, of feeling stable yet uplifted, and his reassurance was what I needed to really inhabit that moment, my moment.
Are all teachers this amazing?
I feel very blessed.
image credits: http://www.spynga.com/user_files/image/assistsiwthyumee.jpg, http://yisforyogini.com/christmas-lights-yoga-magic, and http://favim.com/orig/201108/21/gold-hand-heart-key-love-Favim.com-127416.jpg.