As an Ashtanga Yoga student and teacher, I very much enjoy receiving and giving hands-on adjustments in all classes. A touch can be worth a thousand words when it comes to communicating alignment to a student. But what level of adjusting is appropriate for a led class? Lately, I’ve witnessed and experienced a certain level of adjustments in led classes that didn’t seem appropriate, and urge other teachers to use caution.
With the explosive growth of Ashtanga Yoga, a very hands-on style of yoga, physical adjustments in class have become more popular. Adjustments are used on the part of the teacher to help a student understand their body, how to safely approach postures, to feel better in poses, or to aid a student in reaching a potential they may not have seen or deemed possible themselves. These adjustments can be quite strong or aggressive at times, and this level of adjusting is built on a relationship developed slowly, over time, and when practicing with a teacher regularly, traditionally six days per week. In this setting the teacher knows the student, their body, and any history of injury or other special considerations. Most importantly, it is a relationship built on trust. With this in mind it is the teacher’s responsibility to keep students safe, not necessarily bend them in all manner of positions to impress or sell them on yoga or on them as a teacher.
In led class, it can be difficult to develop these types of relationships, simply because teachers are guiding the class as a group as opposed to taking as much time as needed per posture per student, as would be the case in a traditional Mysore-style Ashtanga setting. In addition, the group moves to a rhythm in a led class and it is the responsibility of the teacher to keep the count consistent, holding postures relatively equally on each side. For this reason, heavy, or deep adjustments should be avoided in led classes.
Recently, I’ve witnessed teachers aggressively adjusting students into postures just because the student could “get there,” not because they knew the student had been working on that posture daily over weeks or months, or in fact if they had ever been introduced to that posture any time previously. Aside from the relative safety of the student, when a teacher pauses for too long to adjust a body in a led class, it can completely throw off the count, pace, and rhythm, making it difficult to hold poses equally on each side, and making it difficult for others to focus.
It is of utmost importance that teachers remove any personal agenda from giving adjustments and use them only when it will truly serve the student. Even the “simple” adjustments like adho muka svanasana (downward facing dog) or paschimattanasana (seated forward fold) should be approached with caution and can be just as effective with a lighter hand. Remember that a light touch can be a powerful tool to bring awareness to a student’s body and practice, and that adjustments in led class should be an aid, not an interruption.