by Lisa Wells
Last Tuesday, I had a new student in class. I asked, as I always do, “Is there anything you’d like me to know about your body?” I’ve honed this phrase over the years to acknowledge my desire to help students while not sounding like a medical practitioner. This student told me about a few physical issues, and then said “I really like hands-on adjustments. And please tell me when my alignment is off.”
I had to tell the student that I rarely make hands-on adjustments when teaching group yoga classes. I don’t often correct alignment unless it is clear to me that I can bring more comfort and ease, sukha, to a pose. The truth is, the more I’ve learned the less I know about what any yoga pose should ‘look like.’ Given the wide variety of the human form, the wide variety of injuries, the wide variety of arthritis and auto-immune disorders, PTSD and other ailments that clients bring to class with them, it feels hazardous to impose a form on a body if I can’t be in dialog with the person that I am working with. I want the student to articulate what any adjustment feels like. I need the student to feel comfortable saying ‘stop’ if I am pushing them into a range of motion that feels painful or injurious. That kind of dialog is possible only in one-on-one or small group settings.
In private sessions with clients, I do all kinds of hands-on adjustments. I use a variety of hands-on techniques, from my therapeutic yoga training to Ki-Hara Resistance Stretches or the Trauma Releasing Exercises to help my students be more comfortable in their bodies. And, they can tell me how they feel as we work together. We reduce the risk of injury with dialog. We find new ease and a reduction of pain through exploring movement together. It’s a very exciting process. And it is a very intimate process.
I am more interested in what a pose or movement feels like than what it looks like. If we choose to follow Patanjali’s teachings, one of the primary tools of yoga is dharana, focused attention. Dharana is one of my primary teaching goals: focused attention on the body and the breath. The pose may or may not look like a pose in a book, my classes are likely to include all kinds of movements or shapes that don’t look anything like what we’ve come to know as the traditional postures. And, I invite my students to pay attention as they move in and through poses. I invite students to notice how the poses feel in their bodies and to adjust the pose based on sensation and awareness.
I imagine the yoga poses were originally discovered by a similar curiosity. Yogis exploring motion and awareness. Yogis exploring how to move energy and emotion in their bodies to ultimately find mental focus and stillness. The ancient yogis were not particularly interested in a yoga butt or most of our modern yoga goals. There was no instagram or facebook to post selfies or to feed their egos over advanced pose achievement. Rather, the poses helped them find their way into deeper meditation. The poses helped them to focus their minds toward the ultimate goal of achieving Samadhi, full meditative absorption in big Self beyond this temporal body.
Returning to my point, I cannot keep track of the nuances of all the bodies in a group classroom. Maybe other teachers can, but that is beyond my skill set. I cannot engage in real dialog with a single student I’m adjusting when there are 20 other students in the room to tend to. It is also difficult for a student to speak their needs or boundaries around touch when being witnessed by a room full of acquaintances or strangers. As such, the possibility of my injuring you with an adjustment is just too high. I’m not willing to take that risk.
The human form is beautiful. The human body comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and with a wide variety of injuries and health issues. There is no particular shape a pose should look like. My hope is that the poses and movements of yoga help you feel alive, reduce your pain, and help you be present in this amazing moment. Maybe, with enough attention to the details of the pose, we’ll begin to find our way into meditative absorption. We might begin to taste Samadhi.
So, the take-home message here is, if you really like hands-on adjustments, see me for private instruction. We can do some good work together!