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Should Students Adjust Students?

What do you think of students adjusting other students? It has taken me years as a teacher to feel comfortable with making adjustments to students (given considerations of anatomy, liability, and so on). I brought this question up at a small workshop of students and teachers. The answer was students could adjust as long as they had a basic understanding of yoga poses. I question this, and I would appreciate your feedback.
—Joyce

Read John Friend's response:

Dear Joyce,

Over my 27 years of teaching, I have periodically had students partner in order to create a friendlier and lighter atmosphere in the class, to help increase their body awareness, and to slow the pace of the class. Over time, and a few partner injuries later, I have limited partner work in class to simple verbal exchanges—or, at most, having one student simply act as a stabilizing force for another, without making any manipulations or adjustments.

Overall I do not think it's a good idea for a teacher to allow students to physically adjust each other in class. To physically manipulate a student's pose in a safe and effective way requires a good working knowledge of postural alignment for a variety of poses, basic anatomy, and nuances of how to touch for physical adjustment. Many yoga poses challenge the body's range of motion to begin with, so if someone's pose is further pushed or pulled, or twisted unskillfully during an assist, the chances of injury increase dramatically. It's not uncommon for certified teachers of various schools of hatha yoga to accidentally injure students while making physical adjustments. So the risks significantly increase when the assists are made by untrained students.

In order to make a good physical adjustment, it is necessary to know principles of asana alignment and to observe whether:

  1. The foundation of the pose is properly placed.
  2. The basic form of the pose is being performed.
  3. The muscles of the limbs are evenly engaged and drawn into the core of the body.
  4. The arms and legs are rotated and positioned optimally.
  5. The spine is optimally positioned in the pose.
  6. There is uniform expansion of energy stretching out from the core of the body to the periphery.

In addition, you must know how to properly touch a student in order to make an effective adjustment, which is not easy. It requires hours to teach another teacher how to make full, sensitive contact with their hands on students' bodies. It takes a lot of practice to learn how to properly touch a student in order to both receive and transmit nonverbal communication. Once sensitivity has been developed, the teacher then needs to learn how to effectively stabilize the student with her hands, feet, and/or body before manipulating or adjusting the pose.

The sophisticated knowledge of exactly where to touch to make the most effective adjustment, and which way to move muscle and bone to optimally alignment the body, is beyond the scope of most students. Therefore, I recommend not permitting students to adjust each other in class unless they are trained teachers themselves, or unless they are simply acting as stabilizers for each other and there is no physical manipulation performed.

John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga, has practiced a variety of hatha yoga styles since the early '70s. Today, he is widely considered one of the most charismatic and highly respected yoga teachers in the world. Blending an uplifting Tantric yoga philosophy with Universal Principles of Alignment, John's teaching style guides each student to fully live every moment from the heart. In 1997, John founded Anusara Yoga to promote his innovative vision. Today, Anusara Yoga is one of the most popular and fastest growing schools of hatha yoga in the world.
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Reader Comments

Leslie

I am a yoga student. I am comfortable with another student making verbal observations when appropriate in class. However, It takes some time for student and teacher to understand each other's strengths and limitations and physical adjustments should only be made by the well trained experienced teacher and only after that teacher has a complete understanding of the student physicl ability level and goals for their yoga practice.

Jane

Having just completed the first part of a teacher training, I am not in favor of students adjusting each other. We learned how to do some basic adjustments on each other. The teacher emphasized the importance of adjusting the person not the pose. I have been dealing with a thoracic outlet injury for the last year and when a fellow student adjusted my shoulder and neck in extended side angle pose, a nerve in my neck was compressed, I almost fainted, and my fingers went numb. It could have been much worse and really scared me.

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