How a yoga teacher chooses to guide and adjust a student depends greatly upon individual style, instruction, previous knowledge, and abilities. There are no particular rules about assisting, and it tends to be a gray area when discussing yoga instruction. Knowing when to physically assist a student is crucial to their experience and it should be done with care.
There are several circumstances during the instruction of yoga when it is important to physically adjust a student during a pose. The most important being that the student is not in a safe position or when they are not correctly conducting the pose. This can lead to poor alignment, and other excessive forces that could lead to permanent injuries. However, it is important that you do not make the student think that they are not “good” at yoga or that they are not conducting the poses in the “right” way. Doing so could discourage them from coming back to your class. Everyone learns at a different rate and too much adjusting could deter them from the art of yoga.
Another valid reason for physical assists could occur when the student has excelled in a particular position, and you want to help them experience a deepening of the pose. A simple physical adjustment in this situation can help give the student more energy and awareness of their body or breath. Many of your advanced students will welcome physical adjustments, and in most cases you can notice certain cues that will tell you which student is ready for physical adjusting.
Every person’s physical space is a sacred place. With that being said, a physical adjustment is very personal. If the student is new, and you have not discussed their feelings about being physically adjusted, then it is better to utilize verbal adjusting until the subject has been addressed. For many students, knowing that they can practice yoga without being bothered with physical adjusting will provide a relaxed place for them to connect with their own bodies. For many beginners, yoga can be uncomfortable and painful if they are pushed into a position that is too difficult for them. Instead of feeling violated by a physical adjustment, it could be more of an issue of pain and might lead them to give up on yoga all together.
It is very important that you go into physical assists with a serious attitude. There cannot be any mixed emotions or crossed judgments to occur. You must take into consideration whether the physical adjustment will serve the student in the most positive way possible. Communication with the student about being physically adjusted is very important. Knowing whether or not they are comfortable with this method of teaching will make both of you feel more at ease. When you are both on the same page, then there is no room for errors or miscommunication issues.
You might find that utilizing verbal with physical assists will be more helpful for the student. When you are physically adjusting the student, say out loud what you are trying to help the student achieve. Not only will this allow them to prepare for what you are trying to teach them, but it will also help them remember the technique for next time.
When conducted skillfully and appropriately, a physical adjustment can be a very powerful way to develop a trusting relationship with your student. By providing them with a simple technique, it can open up their eyes to a new limit for their body. While verbal adjustments are more common due to the controversy over physical adjustments, there are no other types of assisting that could lead to a new realization of physical limits.
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