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Touch with Skill: 4 Essential Steps for Hands-On Assists

Supportive adjustments can transform someone’s practice. Learn the fundamentals of what makes a fantastic assist so you can safely and intuitively guide others

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In my teaching, I find that the hands-on adjustment is one of the most magical parts of the yoga practice. Generally speaking, adjustments are the game of seasoned teachers, confident in their abilities, knowledgeable about anatomy, and studied in the delicate nature of subtle energetics. And this is how it should be. That said, by respecting a few basic principles, the non-teacher can begin to conjure the magic, simply and safely using adjustments to deepen their own understanding of each asana and to support their friends and family.

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Touching someone is intimate! How you approach adjustments and assists is everything. The adjuster must be coming from a place of wanting to support and create ease in the practitioner. Get away from the judgmental mindset that you are fixing them, that they need your help, that they are wrong, and think more about how you can support their experience and take it to the next level. Err on the side of safety and ask for feedback. If you’re practicing on a friend, have them let you know how it felt, what could’ve felt better, and anything else they noticed about the experience. Slowly but surely, you’ll gain confidence in your hands and touch; what’s more, you’ll have a whole new point of view on your own practice. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind as you start to play around with a hands-on practice.

See also The Art of Inside-Out Hands-On Adjustments

4 Steps for Better Hands-On Adjustments

1. Ground

hands on assists

It is important to be grounded physically and emotionally when you approach someone. If you’re spinning out emotionally, it’s probably not the best day to touch and exchange. Being physically grounded is just as important. You must be holding ground when you approach someone, otherwise you’ll both end up on the floor. Approach the practitioner while keeping your ground and your space, and only then start to observe their posture.

See also Help Students Go Deeper: 5 Yoga Hands-On Assists

2. Observe

hands on assists

Observation is essential. Allow the student to come into the posture and give yourself a second to look at them before you jump in. It’s essential to realize that not every adjustment is right for every body. Someone who is showing hypermobility in their knees doesn’t need to be pushed further into a forward fold. Walk around the student and take a look. See where the joints appear overburdened, where energy seems stagnant, where there is an energetic leak or imbalance, and then decide which adjustment you want to give.

See alsoPhilosophy of Touch: The Risks + Benefits of Hands-On Assists

3. Set Intention

hands on assists

When I teach I often ask student what the point of all this effort is. “You have carved out this time and space,” I say, “You are putting forth the energy and effort, what’s the point?” It’s a way of instilling a bigger picture meaning into their practice. When you start practicing adjustments, it’s very important to ask yourself this question, as well. What is the purpose of the adjustment you are about to give. Is it to ground them, move them deeper, create a boundary, take weight out of their hands, make them feel supported, or something else? The intention and effect of hands-on work is endless; get clear on why you are touching them and the specific intention with each adjustment. For example, “I am adjusting my friend’s Downward-Facing Dog to support her and bring relief to her hands that I observe buckling under pressure.”

See also Help Your Students Let Go: 5 Hands-On Assists for Savasana

4. Direct Energy

hands on assists

With adjustments, the direction of energy is often the most important element. And often, there are multiple directions that need to be expressed in an assist. With a twist, you often encourage length in the spine, as well as revolution around that axis. When pressing someone’s hands down in Downward-Facing Dog, you want the energy to flow evenly downward and throughout the entire hand. Also in Down Dog, many adjustments pull the weight back toward the legs, but they also move energy up at the same time. Think about how you want to direct them and how energy should flow in each posture. Think about how to create relief and avoid dumping in the joints.

Your best source of information for adjustments is the adjustments you receive. Start paying attention to them. Think about how they make you feel, where the teacher is directing your energy, how the teacher redistributes your weight and shifts your focus through their touch. And if hands-on adjustments continue to pique your interest, it may be time to enroll in teacher training or seek out adjustment workshops. Good luck, and enjoy!

More from Sonima:Step-by-step breakdown of how to assist a friend in Downward-Facing Dog

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