Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 26 June 2011

adjustment bureau

i’ve seen a few posts recently on various folks’ blogs discussing adjustments in yoga classes. it’s the kind of thing that people tend to have strong opinions about and that’s worth reflecting on.

my teachers all adjust students and generally believe that getting your hands on your students is a positive and empowering teaching tool. my experience of their classes reinforces this. that said, i’ve encountered instructors who did not adjust me in ways that made sense to my body (i’m not a fan of being lain upon, although i know some people dig it) – and i made the choice not to stick with those teachers. i’ve also had teachers in the past who don’t adjust at all. some of those have been teachers that i’ve really liked, but ultimately i find that verbal cues are not always sufficient for me. i have poorly developed spatial intelligence (and it’s improved with yoga, it was even worse before!) so there are just times when no amount of instruction is going to get me somewhere. i need a little hands on guidance to know where i’m headed (hello, half moon). so i am in the pro-adjust camp as a student.

as a teacher, i feel very uncertain about adjusting. i know just enough to know how much i don’t know. adjusting scares me. but i’m also not going to get better at it unless i do it. and i’m realizing that, yes, i want to be good at it. which means i’m going to make mistakes. i’m going to make some people uncomfortable. hopefully i won’t ever move someone in a way that is injurious, but i can’t guarantee that i won’t. should this scare me off from doing it? i’m not convinced that it should.

thoughts on adjusting and being adjusted? i’m curious about how other people feel.



  1. I’m really not a fan of teachers who don’t adjust. I like hands-on guidance. Sometimes I THINK I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but then the teacher adjusts me and suddenly that little adjustment makes all the difference in the world! I love moments like that when you fit in the pose perfectly, and you know it only because a second ago you were almost-but-not-quite there yet.

    Yes, it can be uncomfortable sometimes to be touched by a stranger… I’ve been taking a class with the same teacher for three years now, so I’ve gotten used to her touching me, but even with her it’s still a bit weird. It’s all worth it though!

    As for making mistakes — well, as you said, there’s no other way to learn. So go forth and adjust! 🙂

  2. As a student, I’m also in the pro-adjustment camp; although I think my spatial sense may be a little better than yours, there are definitely times when an adjustment makes the point much more quickly than a verbal cue. And there are times when a teacher will adjust me in a way I never would have thought of, but once I’m there I can hold it just fine.

    I have gotten some bad adjustments, though. At Christmas time, I had class with a new teacher – he was subbing for a teacher I liked and trusted, which is why I was even at the class. He adjusted my leg such that my hip hurt for months afterward. He also came at me from behind and touched me very firmly, which I do not think I would do to a new student I had just met, so at least I learned something from the experience.

    As a teacher, I find myself itching to go adjust people and having to restrain myself. Not everybody needs or wants an adjustment, and I’m not necessarily good at it yet. Less is definitely more in this realm.

    • I think that, as a teacher, it’s all about disclosure. If you tell students at the beginning of class that you will be adjusting, then they have an opportunity to let you know if they don’t want to be adjusted.

      I think this whole issue underscores the need to communicate clearly with any teacher.

      I can’t say that I would avoid adjusting a student just because it was the first time I had a person in my class, but I likely would stick to certain types of adjusts (downward dog, warriors, seated forward folds & twists – foundation-type poses). I agree that there are certain adjustments that are best avoided on a student you don’t know. It sounds like this teacher snuck up on you a bit – I think I’m doing alright at not stealth-adjusting 😉

  3. I LOVE good adjustments. I don’t even mind bad adjustments. A lot is communicated through touch and I think that generally as a culture, we don’t touch enough. A yoga class is a great place to receive positive healing touch.
    That said, I think that as a teacher, you need to figure out what your intention is in adjusting someone. Are you adjusting them to give them access to something in the pose they wouldn’t otherwise find (a nice tug to open the hips in parsvokonasana for example)? Are you adjusting them to prevent injury (guiding the foot to point in the correct direction in trikonasana)? Or are you just trying to push people into the pose as you think it should look?
    I was on Yelp last night looking at local yoga studios. It seems a lot of beginners at least feel that they’re receiving the third type of adjustment. That might be projecting of their own insecurities, but there’s probably a lot of truth there, too. And it’s a shame that many of those people won’t return to a yoga class in their lives due to a perceived or real bad adjustment.
    So I guess my feeling is, as a teacher, figure out who your new students are. Figure out why you’re adjusting (it might be different for different people). As a student, receive adjustments with an open mind, but learn to say no to adjustments if they make you uncomfortable or hurt.
    Good discussion! Thanks for starting it!

    • I love your insights about knowing where your students are at in their practice and knowing what your own intention is as you enter into their space. Good advice!

  4. Personally, I believe adjustments are a thing that stay with you and can really help improve your practice. I LOVE the feeling of finally achieving the sensation of the pose in full form after being “almost there” and I think it speaks miles about my practice and personal growth as a yogi. I have not yet received an adjustment that made me uncomfortable (I practice mostly with instructors who I know and are friends) aside from maybe the “strap under the neck weird adjustment thing (no idea)” in savasanna, which totally was not helpful to my relaxation when I am worrying about someone messing with my neck when I rather be reaching enlightenment (haha, who am I kidding-) I love the point someone made about why you as an assistant or instructor are giving the adjustments you are – it really does depend what perspective you approach it from.

    Thanks for the interesting thought-

    • It’s such a gift to trust your teachers! I love that bump into a pose that I’m soooo close to, too. 🙂 thanks for sharing your experiences.

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