A really great adjustment in a yoga class can change your practice in an instant. One moment you’re sure you’re not capable of headstand. The next, you’re safely chilling upside down with your teacher’s support, head full of blood—and pride.
“You can describe a pose until you’re blue in the face, but to help someone physically move into the posture, that will explain more to them than any dialogue ever could,” says Alanna Kaivalya, a yoga-world adjustments guru. Kaivalya, who’s designed teacher training programs for popular studios like Pure Yoga and Yoga Vida, has been offering an Art of Adjustments workshop for teachers all over the world since 2004. She’s taught it in 15 countries and recently released an e-book of the same name.
While many of us have gotten a lot from skilled adjustments, like a gentle hand opening a shoulder or pressing down the back edge of a foot, lots of us have also felt our hamstrings protest with pain while being pushed deeper, or worse, have been in side angle thinking, “Really? You needed to put your hand there?”
To help you reap the benefits of a great adjustment (and avoid the really bad ones), we asked Kaivalya for her advice on how to get the most out of in-class corrections:
1. Look up your teacher’s creds before class. A lot of material has to fit into a 200-hour teacher training program, so how to skillfully adjust students often gets left out, Kaivalya says. If you’re looking to go deeper in your practice and want heavy hands-on help, seek out a teacher who has done advanced trainings and has extensive experience. “You can ask teachers about their qualifications—about the trainings they’ve gone to, who their teacher is—these are the questions we ask our doctors, and they’re all appropriate questions,” she says. Also, with a new teacher you’ve never tried, you can always verbally opt out of adjustments before class starts.
2. Learn the difference between discomfort and pain. Okay, many yoga poses are uncomfortable, and an adjustment that aligns your knee correctly in Warrior II might increase the discomfort you feel. (At least until your body softens, strengthens, or becomes used to the pose.) But listen to your body, and as you progress in your practice, try to notice and differentiate between discomfort and real pain. “Pain is a signal that something is wrong,” Kaivalya says, and that’s also when you need to speak up. If you stay quiet,”there’s a good chance the teacher just won’t know.”
3. Don’t hesitate if things get weird. So many people have told me about times they were surprised by how (or where) a teacher touched them, and I’ve been there, to0. Usually these conversations involve laughter because we assume the teacher meant well. But it’s really not a joke if you feel at all uncomfortable, especially in light of all of the recent scandals and abuses of power. “There are very strict and appropriate guidelines for yoga teacher-student relationship, just like there are guidelines between a doctor and a patient. Those boundaries are not crossed for a reason,” she says. So err on the side of responding right away with a “No, thanks.” Yoga class should be the safest space, after all. —Lisa Elaine Held