I had an interesting conversation with a friend a while ago that has been in the back of my mind since. She had taken a yoga class at her local health club and was feeling insecure about it because the teacher had given her a lot of attention in the form of adjustments.
The fact that she was a little unnerved by this surprised me. I LOVE to get adjustments when I take a class. Maybe it is the dancers ego in me that strongly remembers a childhood friend-- also a dancer-- telling me it was good that I was getting adjustments. She said it meant that the teacher saw talent in me. Ever since that conversation when I got a 'correction' in my dance class or a kinder 'adjustment' in a yoga class, it was always a nonverbal bit of encouragement saying, "You can do this!" My friend, on the other hand, said she felt almost like the teacher was picking on her. It got me thinking about how and why I give adjustments as a teacher. I've been wondering if my students ever felt the same way, and it saddens me to think they could.
As an instructor, my intention is always to wait to adjust a student until they are ready to accept what you are offering. As a teacher trainee, I was always shown how to use non-verbal adjustments first, or one finger adjustments to correct a misalignment and ensure safety for students who are new to us. As we continue with a student, the relationship builds so that they can trust you and allow you to open them up to a deeper expression of the posture. It is then that we can grow more hands on with our assistance.
Not long after this conversation with my mom, I went to a five day intensive with the internationally renowned teacher Donna Farhi. She brought an even deeper insight to the art of adjustments: The Neutral Touch. She described how on top of asking verbal permission to adjust a student, when she first touches them she comes to them with a touch that is neither timid nor aggressive and "wait for the sentries to welcome you in." From that point on a teacher can guide the student further in to the asana.
As important as it is for a teacher to respect the student's limitations in every adjustment, it is equally important for students to take on responsibilities for their own bodies. My teacher is not in my body and can not sense and feel what I do. If an instructor is making an adjustment that doesn't feel "right," it is the student's responsibility to verbalize that. A student also has the right to verbally refuse an adjustment if they don't want it. We are encouraged to do this by the yama (restraint) of ahimsa (non-violence). We practice ahimsa with our bodies when we listen and honor them and their limitations. A good teacher will respect the student for where they are in their process.
I've been sharing these ideas with my friend. As with all things in life, we have to be ready for changes... willing to adjust. When the time is right and we can be present with what needs to happen, we adapt in the way we need to so we can develop each posture to its fullest nature within our body.