“I learned through yoga asana that the body is a map to the soul and that my own body speaks a language that is designed for me to hear and learn from. Everyone’s body and practice are different in the sense that the language that the body speaks is entirely different from one person to the next” – Mark Stephens, author of ‘Yoga Adjustments: Philosophy, principles and techniques’
Meet Shannon and Ellen, two practicing yogis with very different views on adjustments…
How long have you been practicing yoga?
Shannon: 10 years
Ellen: 5 years on and off
What type of yoga do you practice?
Shannon: I’ve always stuck with the classes offered at Moksha.
Ellen: I started with an Iyengar alignment based practice and now I typically enjoy moderate intensity Hatha classes, Vinyasa flow classes and of course Yin. I received my 200hr Hatha teaching certification in 2014.
Do you like when instructors offer adjustments in class?
Shannon: Not particularly… I have a shoulder injury that is very sensitive. I really prefer not to be touched during my practice.
Ellen: Yes I do. I believe adjustments aid in the students ability to fully realize the pose, and can prevent harmful misunderstandings about what the body should be doing. I do believe the use of adjustments should be consent based, and that there are a multitude of ways to check for this before an instructor interacts with the students body. But my experience with adjustments was incredibly positive and formative in my understanding of my body in space and it’s capabilities.
What feelings come over you when an instructor approaches you to adjust your position?
Shannon: It makes me nervous, uncomfortable and afraid when a yoga instructor approaches me to administer an adjustment…
Ellen: Initially I feel slightly nervous, especially if I don’t know the instructor or how tentative they will be with my body. I have had experiences where I’ve been pushed slightly further then where I wanted to go into a pose, and had wished that there had been more of a dialogue around what my body was ready to do that day. But following a process of checking in or if the instructor asks a question preparing me for what my state of being will be in the pose, I feel excited to experience the pose with their help and watchful eye.
The reason I do believe there should be dialogue/consent behind adjustments is that I don’t always want to receive them, either because I believe I understand the pose but want to go at a slower pace or if I don’t feel like pushing my body beyond the form it’s taken within the pose. Some days I simply don’t feel like being touched by someone not close to me, so being asked is a nice way to prevent that.
What do you think is the best way to approach a student to offer an adjustment?
Shannon: I think it should be made clear at the beginning of class as to not disrupt practice. This makes me feel more comfortable and let’s everyone know that adjustments may be part of their practice today.
Ellen: I think if an instructor approaches a students mat, and quietly asks them if they would like an adjustment, I say quietly because it is sometimes embarrassing to feel singled out by the instructor and this might prevent that. The first question should be “May I offer you an adjustment?” The second should be “Do you have any injuries?” The last would be to continually check in on how the adjustment feels, if a student is being pushed into.a deeper stretch, give them space to say when they have reached their depth. If it’s a pose that requires multiple smaller adjustments, just asking if it’s okay to touch certain parts of the body at each turn.
What do you think of cards or chips at the head of your mat to denote whether or not you want to be touched?
Shannon: I think it’s a great idea. It allows students to be honest about whether or not they want adjustments without being put on the spot during practice.
Ellen: I think they are an excellent idea, I don’t often see them used enough in studios but I believe if it became required practice it would be helpful for people to prepare themselves for whether or not they would like to be touched in that way and whether they are interested in feedback or help with their practice. I do also feel like the necessity for the chips is dependant on the pace of the class.
Tell us about an experience where an adjustment affected you (positively or negatively)
Shannon: I was recently in a level 2 class where the instructor spent 15 mins perfecting everyone’s form during flow. I actually did find it very helpful as it was going back to basics while enhancing my practice from that day onward.
Ellen: When I first began doing yoga I didn’t have much of a relationship with my body in space, I could mimic the poses of the other people in the class by watching closely but really struggled to understand where in my body I was meant to be feeling the poses. The first class I went to consistently was an Iyengar class run by a studio owner in Toronto. She was an incredible woman who wasn’t afraid to offer her knowledge of the poses, and would often completely rearrange new students on their mats to achieve the proper stretch or strengthening movement.
What was transformative for me about her adjustments was how she would physically draw a line with her hand along which muscle I was meant to be using, and would often describe the feeling I should be experiencing while in the pose. It helped me realize what the pose was attempting to achieve and allowed to me to realize the process of yoga, that there is room for adjustments and space making. She helped me understand a lot about my body’s capabilities, and began the foundational work of alignment awareness and proprioception that would help me hone my practice to what it is today.
What do you think is lost if a yoga instructor scraps adjustments altogether?
Shannon: I think the practice can become lost if an instructor scraps adjustments altogether. Adjustments are important to ensure the best and most effective practice. I just find them to be intrusive if they are introduced incorrectly.
Ellen: I think a lack of adjustments can leave new students, or students who have never interacted with the style or poses before, feeling like they don’t understand the purpose of the sequence of poses, what muscles they are meant to be utilizing and can leave them feeling like there was no point in coming to yoga in the first place. I have definitely left classes and felt as if I hadn’t engaged with my body or with the instructor in a meaningful way, and was left wondering in moments if my body was doing what was being asked of it.
On a broader level, what would your ideal yoga class look and feel like?
Shannon: My ideal yoga class includes me arriving 30 mins early and taking my time getting mentally prepared, and enjoying a very calm, long savasana to begin. My favourite class is moksha flow as I enjoy the pace and level of difficulty. I enjoy when the instructor includes a fair amount of core work while doing the floor series. Usually, I’m one of the last people to leave the room because I like to prolong my final savasana as well, this allows me to speak with the instructor after class about any adjustments that could tweak my practice. Tweaks during class give me anxiety because of my injury.
Ellen: I like a class with moderate movement, with a good balance of flows and new poses, and space for experimentation. I also like when an instructor practices non-judgemental teaching, when they allow their students to take whatever positions their body is able to take with ease and breath. My preference is for music that is dynamic and informs the pace of the practice. I appreciate when a yoga teacher has a thorough grasp on the anatomy and physiology of the poses, but keeps an element of the meditative nature of the breath and presence on the mat.
Give a shout out to your favorite yoga instructor!
Shannon: Debbie Wilson at Moksha Yoga Bloor West, Toronto! ❤
Ellen: Christa Shillington at Moksana Yoga, Victoria! ❤
We want to extend a BIG thank you to Shannon and Ellen for sharing their views on adjustments!
Open and conscious yogis are what help make better teachers, and we are so grateful for their input! <3