When practicing yoga with an instructor, students receive a multitude of benefits—namely, assists and adjustments. It’s easy to perform yoga poses incorrectly when practicing alone. Having a yoga teacher there to guide you into a safer expression of the posture is a great learning tool. Yoga adjustments help students feel more confident in their practice, and may even help them to move deeper into the poses.
As a yoga teacher, where do you begin to help assist a student’s practice?
Before you even begin to adjust the student, get a full 360-degree view of their body in the pose. Check to see where, if at all, they are misaligned. In teacher training, one of the first things we learn about anatomy is that no two people are built the same. It’s important to get a complete picture of the student’s bone structure, because what may be correct for one student may be incorrect for another. And what may look like a misalignment might just be the way their body adjusts to that particular pose.
Alignment adjustments are critical to make sure your students are practicing safely. When examining alignment, work from the ground up. Note the position of your student’s feet, knees, legs, hips, pelvis, shoulders, torso, and head. When you adjust the body—again moving from the ground up—always ensure that the student’s feet are stable and that your adjustment isn’t throwing them off balance.
Observe the student’s breath. Are they breathing smoothly or struggling? The latter could result from overexerting the body or from misalignment, which prevents air and energy from moving fluidly throughout the body. Always make adjustments in sync with the breath. Watch your student breathe and match your inhalations to theirs before stepping in to make an assist.
Once you have assessed your student and identified the problem, offer verbal cues to see if they can make the adjustment on their own. If they need a little extra encouragement, consider offering a hands-on adjustment—but always make sure to get their approval first. Upon consent, approach the assist with a clear intention. If you hesitate, the student will sense your uncertainty and get confused as to where you want them to go. Remember to adjust on the breath.
In addition to alignment adjustments, many yoga instructors offer “feel good” adjustments to improve their students’ comfort. For example, you may want to assist your student in reaching higher in Urdhva Hastasana, grounding their sacrum in Balasana, or relaxing their body in Savasana. These adjustments are less about alignment and more about helping the student feel grounded and relaxed. However, they should still be performed in sync with the breath.
Some instructors utilize adjustments to help students move deeper into a yoga pose. If you have more advanced students in your classes, and you are well-versed in their levels of flexibility, you might consider offering these adjustments. Some schools of yoga encourage them while others shy away from them—and this generally becomes clear during teacher training. Find out how your studio’s management feels about hands-on assists before you begin practicing them. If you choose to help a student delve deeper into a pose, be careful to not push them too far, as you can easily cause an injury.
No matter which type of adjustment you offer to your students, always keep their safety top-of-mind. If you are unclear on how to assist a pose, opt out of making the adjustment. As a yoga teacher, you have an amazing opportunity to provide the resources and guidance your students need to grow in their yoga practice. Assist them safely, and they will follow suit.