The Art of Inside-Out Hands-On Adjustments

Matthew Sanford teaches with a focus on subtle inner sensations, rather than physical actions. Reverse-engineer your hands-on adjustments.

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Yoga Journal LIVE! presenter Matthew Sanford teaches with a focus on subtle inner sensations, rather than gross physical actions. Learn how to reverse-engineer your adjustments.

Like most alignment-based teachers, the majority of my adjustments are aimed at helping my students find more optimal alignment for their physical body in asanas. Yoga Journal LIVE! presenter Matthew Sanford approaches adjustments from a radically different perspective, though. Rather than offering physical corrections of a posture, Sanford believes that the real art of adjusting lies in revealing the pose’s effects on the subtle body.

Inside-Out Adjustments

Sanford, who due to his paralysis cannot make adjustments that require any sort of body leverage, was forced to take another look at adjustments, as well as the asanas. He now use an inside-out rather than the outside-in approach and focuses on shifting awareness from the actions of the muscles, bones, and joints to the subtleties of how consciousness moves and flows in poses.

“I think an adjustment is trying to reveal to you the subtlety in a pose — the way that the prana moves in the pose,” Sanford says. “And then the student has to explore how to sustain that sensation through the actions of the asanas.” Simply put, Sanford is reverse-engineering asana adjustments.

Also see A-ha! Adjustments

How to Make Inside-Out Adjustments

Let’s take Warrior II for example. As a teacher, you could lightly support the underside of each of a student’s upper arms from behind, eliminating a little bit of gravity and bringing some ease into the pose. Then you’d ask the student to find a way to maintain that ease. They may figure out that they need to use their legs more to support the pose, say.

Sanford points out that there’s a big difference in receiving an adjustment and taking an adjustment and that a good student will learn from an adjustment on the spot, paying attention to what is being revealed and where or how they need to work to support the sensation.

The Goal of Good Adjustments

At the end of the day, all good adjustments aim to do the same thing—create freedom, ease, and a sense of space in a pose. Arguing that the “sense of becoming a pose isn’t necessarily achieved through physical action,” Sanford believes adjustments should also reveal the internal direction and flow of subtle awareness through the body in asana.

Also seePartner Up: Learn How to Make Skillful Adjustments

3 Tips for Making Subtle-Body Adjustments

As a teacher, you can begin by asking yourself, what am I trying to reveal with each adjustment I give? Then play around with different ways of helping your students experience it through your language and touch.

1. Less is more.

Matthew Sanford

Don’t adjust too quickly or strongly, especially if you’re unsure of what you are doing. “For an adjustment to be truly effective, conditions of safety must be met,” Sanford says. “If you don’t feel safe, your inner body’s going to shut down.”

Also seeThe Power of Touch

2. Focus on bone-to-bone adjustments.

Hands On Adjustment

In most asana adjustments, teachers are touching and adjusting flesh. But Sanford argues that prana flows better through bones than muscles and that our adjustments should be more bone-to-bone. For example, use the bones of your palm rather than your fingers, with all of the various articulations, against a student’s hip bones rather than their outer-hip flesh to make pelvis adjustments.

Also seeThe Learning Curve: Skillful Yoga Spine Adjustments

3. Always use touch to adjust in more than one direction.

Yoga Hands-on adjustments

Adjustments should ultimately reveal a sense of expansion, not just a linear action. Adjusting in at least two directions helps ensure this. It also requires the adjuster to be more aware. Plus, using force to adjust in one direction increases the risk of doing harm.

For example, in Dandasana, adjust the thighs in and down—not just down. Or when enhancing the lift in the chest in a pose, don’t just push straight forward from behind the shoulder blades. Instead, gently push in and up.

Also seePatanjali Never Said Anything About Alignment 

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