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Best Way to Handle Hands-On Yoga Adjustments?

Hands-on adjustments are one of the most powerful ways to communicate with your students…

There I was on my yoga mat in a crowded class learning from my teacher. While I was turning my way into Parivrtta Trikonasana, I could hear his footsteps walking by and was wondering whether or not he was going to give me a hands-on adjustment.  At one point during the yoga class, he was right behind me working with another yoga student – talking to her and skillfully guiding her through an adjustment. She gave sighs of opening with each assisted turn. I wanted that, too.

Touch Carries a Message

Throughout the years, I have received hundreds of hands-on adjustments by hundreds of yoga teachers. Some have been awesome and others not so much.  Nevertheless, a hands-on yoga adjustment can be a free-for-all opportunity for an unethical teacher to take advantage of being in control of someone else’s vulnerable moment. Recently, I read an article about hands-on adjustments not always being welcomed in a yoga class. One studio owner was quoted as saying, “It’s off-limits to approach the genitals and breasts.” OK, all I can say to that statement is, “duh!”

But it’s worth re-stating the obvious. For example, some time ago I attended a yoga class taught by a fairly popular yoga teacher in the local community. Word on the street was that this teacher gave a lot of hands-on adjustments. Coming from an Iyengar background, I couldn’t wait to see what kind of adjustments I might receive. Unfortunately, the hands-on adjustments were questionable at best. Let’s just say I never stepped foot in that studio again.

A few years ago my family and I were traveling back from Paris, France, to the United States. At the opposite end of the security gate I was greeted by a woman who wasordered to frisk me. No big deal. I’d been frisked before at airport security gates, but I was not prepared for the brisk rub across and down the center front of my body that I received. As a result, I flinched and took a giant step back accompanied by a gasp. The experience made me think of all the times we receive an unwelcomed touch on the street, at the market or doing whatever it is we do during the day while we are bumping up against others and their movements.

Touch is so powerful and subjective. It carries a level of energy like unspoken words behind a clenched jaw or smiling eyes. It can foster a calming or forceful interaction between student and teacher.

Here’s What I know Now

It is a yoga teacher’s responsibility to create and maintain ethical standards, and clarify the role of a yoga teacher with regard to all interactions with students. I have the privilege of guiding student-teachers in their process of learning how to become effective and authentic yoga teachers. Consider using the following simple guidelines we teach at LCY to determine whether or not to give a hands-on yoga adjustment, and which kind it will be.

1.  When approaching a student, I notice where my curiosity leads me as I watch a student being and breathing in the architecture of the pose.

2.  If I cannot understand what is happening in front of me, I walk away.

3.  I ask myself, “What is the intention of my touch and for what purpose am I touching?”

4.  I ask the student for permission to touch them.

5.  Based on the above, I may offer a hands-on adjustment in any one of the following methods:

a) Gift – Guiding a student into an effortless experience of the pose

b)  Meeting – Providing simple yet profound support via presence and/or props

c)  Directional – Offering a direction to follow via a brush-stroke

d) Purposeful – Firmly adjusting with partnership of the breath

When an adjustment works the body welcomes it, receives it and even organizes itself to integrate it into the pose.  And the next time the student is on the yoga mat in that very same pose, the body tries to seek it on its own. There is an art to hands-on yoga adjustments that yoga teachers must respect.

When consent is given, a meaningful adjustment conveys a deep understanding of its intention and purpose. It provides education and exploration, and adds a level of healing to an intelligent yoga practice.


I hope to see you all at the Texas Yoga Conference this weekend!


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