The 4 C's of Hands On Adjustments
In my years of leading yoga training, I've found the subject of hands-on adjustments to be one that makes many new teachers quite nervous. If you've never worked in a field that has you in close physical contact with another person it takes some getting used to. Many students share that they are afraid to hurt someone or that they just don't feel confident enough to give a "good" adjustment. Below are the four key points I've come up with that I teach our students.
Consideration: This is the process of observing the practitioner and the situation. It includes considering a practitioner’s physical capabilities and if there is time to make the adjustment without interrupting the rhythm of the class. This is an important step, but one that you can't take too long to work through. Remember most poses are only held for three to five breaths. Understanding the class type, tempo and sequence will help you to use this principle effectively.
Clarity: Having absorbed all the information you need, you now need to ensure that there is a clear intention for your adjustment. Never enter into a student's personal space without a clear intention. The energy of uncertainty can be felt. We all know what it feels like when someone gets close. The more clear you are with why you are there the more comfortable it will be for everyone.
Confidence: Move into a practitioner’s space with clarity and confidence. A student can sense if you are not confident with your adjustment and that will affect the overall experience. Be assertive, and strong, but also gentle and comforting. Since you have already established clear intent now you need to deliver through clear action. Pay attention to the student's body cues and facial expressions. You will feel when their body pushes back or resists against tension you may be adding. You will also notice if they are able to continue to breathe comfortably. If not, ease out. It's ok to ask if the student is ok or how the adjustment feels. Assuming you've followed the other steps up to this point, the feedback can reassure you and them.
Control: This includes stabilizing your body position first as well as applying slow and steady pressure. To apply pressure slowly keep a silent count from 0-5 as pressure increases. Hold as long as necessary and then start to release pressure from 5-0 until no longer making contact. In balancing poses it may be helpful to keep contact until they have returned back to a stable position on hands and/or feet. Moving too fast will not allow you to gather the necessary feedback. Moving too slow will not allow you to complete the adjustment in the given amount of time.
It has been my experience that most students really enjoy and appreciate adjustments. However, we have a sentence in our liability waiver that says, "our teachers occasionally make hands-on adjustments. If you would not like adjustments it's your responsibility to let the teacher know." Every person has the right to their body and their experience. While a good adjustment can be a great addition to a class, it is more important that all teachers honor and respect students' requests to be left alone. As a teacher, we aim to provide the best experience possible. That means creating a safe and neutral space for students to explore. Always remember that it isn't about you, it's about them.
A few more tips:
If a student requests to not have any adjustments made and you see in their yoga practice they could use some help rely on your verbal cues to guide them.
Don't forget about props. The correct use of a block or strap can offer a great adjustment without you ever needing to make hands-on contact.
If you're comfortable, ask other teachers to adjust you. This is a great way to feel an adjustment in your own body. The experience can give you new insight into how you would do it, or maybe modify it.
Follow the rules above, take your time and practice. You will be offering wonderful clear, confident and intentional adjustments in no time.
For more teaching tips and to deepen your understanding of your yoga practice please see my book: Deepening Your Practice: An Essential Guide to Yoga Students and Teachers