This is our first-ever live podcast recording! From Jason’s training in San Francisco at Love Story Yoga, we dig deep into how yoga teachers can serve their students better through offering hands-on, or manual, adjustments.
We talk about:
* The value of hands-on adjustments in yoga postures for students, and which students might benefit most.
* Why Jason feels there should be a paradigm shift in the way teachers deliver manual adjustments and what that shift should be.
* Ways to approach adjusting super flexible students, tighter students, and those middle-of-the-road students + why it’s important to give them all equal attention in class.
* Practical advice teachers can implement right now to offer safer, more skillful adjustments that informs their experience of the posture.
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A conversation about manual yoga adjustments (also called “hands-on assists) in yoga is long overdue. For the past five years in my workshops, trainings, and weekly classes, I’ve been advocating for a paradigm shift: I believe that yoga teachers need to stop acting like stretching machines and exerting leverage on students’ bodies to intensify or “enhance” a stretch.
Why? The answer is simple: This is a mechanically flawed approach to working with bodies and it results in countless avoidable injuries.
I’ve seen plenty of anecdotal evidence of this – and, if you’re a yoga teacher, I’m sure you have, too. During my trainings and workshops I ask students to raise their hand if they’ve been injured during a manual adjustment. There has never been a group where less than forty percent of students have raised their hand. I think you’ll agree that this is too much. As a community, we can drastically lower this number.
I’m not saying that experienced teachers shouldn’t provide appropriate manual feedback. I’m still an advocate for manual yoga adjustments—or, what I usually call them, “manual cues.”(Listen to this week’s Yogaland podcast to hear me talk about this more.) There is nothing better in class than receiving an excellent manual cue. The body falls into place and the nervous system relaxes. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. There’s nothing worse than receiving a poor or inappropriate adjustment—the body strains, the breath tightens, and the nervous system becomes agitated.
A good yoga adjustment skillfully communicates the actions of the pose to your body so that your body understands the posture more clearly. A bad adjustment is invasive and misguided. During lousy adjustments, the teacher is either working with a lack of experience and information or an abundance of ego.
So what is the paradigm shift I’m talking about here? First, I ask that teachers stop exerting leverage on the part of the student’s body that is moving. Instead, provide increased grounding and stability to the part of the student’s body that is fixed. Let’s take Wide-Legged Seated Forward Bend (UpavisthaKonasana) as an example. In this pose, the pelvis and spine rotate forward over the thighbones—they are the “moving” parts of the pose.The thighbones root down into the ground—they are the “fixed” part of the pose. Do not add leverage to the pelvis and spine. Instead, press down on the thighbones. Grounding the student’s thighs will allow the pelvis and spine to release further into the pose without the vulnerability that comes from adding direct pressure onto the pelvis and spine. This is just one of countless examples.
Another component of this paradigm shift is to view manual cues the same way we view verbal cues. Manual cues—like verbal cues—simply communicate the actions of the pose to the student. The idea is to use your hands to communicate directly to the student’s body so he or she has a better understanding of the pose. The idea is not to use your hands to press a student further into the pose. You are not a stretching machine that is doing the pose to the student.
Here are 10 more ideas for honing our approach to manual yoga adjustments during yoga class:
First, a note about ethical considerations
While this is a huge topic for discussion in a teacher-training program, it’s outside the scope of this article. So, let me just say that teachers should never touch students inappropriately. Period. (To hear my wife, Andrea, talk about ending sexual misconduct in the yoga world, listen to episode 94 of Yogaland.)
1. Observe Before You Adjust
You’ll get pretty busy during class: you’ll be sequencing, verbalizing, adjusting, observing group dynamics, managing the clock, adjusting the tempo, and so on. It can be challenging to simply pause and patiently see a student’s body clearly. Instead, you might notice the most obvious element of a student’s pose and set your sights on giving an adjustment that involves leverage. However, it is important to observe your students before you dive in. This pause will not only help you more accurately assess the room, it will help you become grounded before you attempt to steady someone else.
2. Put Fires Out First
As you assess the room, look for dangerous or uncomfortable postures. Adjust these folks before you walk around and offer a “deepening” adjustment to someone who doesn’t actually need any help. It’s more important that all of your students are working safely than deepening someone’s backbend.
3. Create Steadiness, Not Intensity
Aim to help your students find greater steadiness, ease, and integrity in their postures. Instead of trying to increase range of motion, figure out how you can help them feel more grounded and balanced. Adjustments that increase intensity can be dangerous—especially if the student is not grounded. Unfortunately, many teachers want their students to have “breakthroughs” in their class since these experiences can build an attachment to the teacher. These types of egocentric adjustments often contribute to injuries.
4. Stabilize the Foundation
One of the best ways to adjust your students is by helping them create balanced, stable contact with the floor. If a student’s postural foundation is off, the rest of their body will have to work even harder to maintain equilibrium. Their effort will be inefficiently distributed, creating unnecessary tension throughout the body.
5. Help Them Find their Stride
It is common for students to have a stride that is too long or too short. Helping students size their stride correctly can be one of the most thorough stabilizing adjustments.
6. Know Your Student Before Deepening A Pose
Most students are near their maximum range of motion (at least in the short term) before their teacher adjusts them. This means that your students are already at their edge before you give them any manual cues. Your student is already at a stress point and any additional motion in the posture should be mild. There’s a fine line between deepening the pose and creating an injury. A very fine line.
It’s much safer and more skillful to work with a student that you know well. And, remember our earlier point: You’re not a stretching machine—don’t exert force on the part of the student’s body that is already moving in the posture. Simply use your hands to create more stability and grounding so they can release deeper into the pose on their own.
7. Take Your Time
No one likes a rushed adjustment. Hasty yoga adjustments are unsettling to the mind, body and nervous system. Take your time adjusting your students and surrender to the fact that people aren’t going to get touched 800 times in class. Fewer good adjustments are always preferable to more mediocre adjustments.
8. Observe How Your Students Respond
Sometimes when you adjust a student, you will feel them melt into the new position with comfort and relief. Other times, you will feel the student’s body resist by flinching or tensing. Sometimes a student may not want additional intensity or they’re protecting themselves because they’re nursing an injury. It’s important to observe your student’s breath and physical signals when you give them an adjustment. Sensing and responding to these signals is essential for developing skillful touch.
9. Complement Your Manual Cues with Verbal Cues
In most manual adjustments, you can only guide one or two actions of the posture at a time. To enhance your student’s pose, offer a verbal cue that complements the manual cue. Let’s say you’re adjusting your student in Revolved Triangle by stabilizing their hips while lengthening and rotating their spine in the twist. You can verbally cue them to reach through their back leg and ground their outer foot.
10. Ask the Correct Questions
Don’t ask your students if an adjustment feels good! You won’t always get candid feedback since very few students will feel comfortable telling you that they don’t feel good in the adjustment. Instead, ask your students, “Do you want more intensity, less intensity, or the same intensity?” You don’t have to ask this question every time you make an adjustment. But, if you’re going to ask them if the adjustment is working for them, this is the best way to go about it.
I’ve developed a new program — the 3-Day Teacher Renewal Program + Weekend Workshop Intensive. I wanted to take a minute to explain my thinking behind it. It’s a program that I’m genuinely excited to share…in fact, it’s exactly the program I would have loved to attend about 10 years ago.
In a nutshell: It’s a 3-day program for teachers of all levels to help you return to your center and reconnect to your practice. Think about this program as part retreat, part yoga teacher training in the company of your peers.
Here’s why I created this program:
If you’re a yoga teacher, your practice is no longer yours and yours alone. Your practice has mostly likely gotten tied up with your identity as a teacher and the challenges of making a living. Ironically, you might practice less consistently and intensely than you did before you taught. And, when you do make it onto your mat, it can be hard for you to find the steadiness of mind that once came so easily because you’re thinking about your sequences and which postures you’re going to teach your students this week.
I’ve taught for 20 years and I don’t know a single teacher who hasn’t gone through the same challenges. I’ve been there myself–more than once. That’s why I created this program.
I understand that yoga teachers don’t just need the type of information they typically receive in trainings. They also need to steep themselves in a supportive environment where they can reconnect to their practice and to the essence of why they started teaching in the first place.
HALF RETREAT, HALF TRAINING
3-DAY RENEWAL PROGRAM SCHEDULE
In the mornings, you will be a student again and savor a strong, complete three-hour vinyasa practice. No notes, no analysis–just practice. It’s time to make your practice a sanctuary again and remember why you fell in love with yoga in the first place. You’ll work at your physical edge, refine your technique, and inspire your practice.
In the afternoons, you will refine key components of your teaching. You’ll also create practical strategies to manage the logistical challenges of earning a living as a teacher.
A Practice for Teachers
9am – 12pm
Strategy Discussion: How to Make a Better Living as a Yoga Teacher
1:30pm – 2:15pm
2:30 – 5:00pm
Technical Refinement and Renewed Inspiration for Teachers
Each day we’ll hone in on a specific topic to refine your teaching.
Day One – Sequencing
You will hone your sequencing. You’ll learn how to bring greater focus, consistency and purpose to your classes. You’ll learn the absolute essentials for creating consistent, compelling classes that reflect your values and help your students make progress. You’ll also learn how to structure an entire month of classes and build sequences for workshops. You’ll receive sample sequences for every posture group and two “master” templates that teach you how Jason creates all of his classes.
Day Two – Manual Adjustments
You will fine-tune your manual adjustments. You won’t learn any fancy new tricks, like how to use 7 belts, 4 partners and the tip of your nose to manipulate down dog. But, you will make sure that you’re giving excellent, supportive adjustments that make your students feel safe, secure and knowledgeable in their postures. You’ll learn the most effective, successful ways of adjusting key backbends, forward bends and inversions.
Day Three – Verbal Cues
You will refine your verbal cues. Concise, accurate, accessible verbal cuing is the key to being an effective teacher. In this session, you will learn to trust simple, clear language that everyone can understand. You’ll replace common teaching jargon, cliché’s, and filler-words with accessible teaching cues that will resonate with your students. You’ll make sure that you’re language is inspired, consistent and accurate for every posture category. And, you’ll get advice on how much talking is too much—and, how much talking is insufficient.
The weekend workshop that follows the 3-Day Renewal Program gives you even more time to deepen your practice and refine your technical knowledge of asana, anatomy, and sequencing. In these workshops, you will learn how alignment and attention to detail cultivates greater depth and ease in your flow practice—from arm-balance to hip-openers, from core-strengtheners to backbends. Each workshop will begin with a brief discussion of related anatomy and move into a smart, satisfying flow practice.
The Teacher Renewal Program and the Weekend Workshops are available separately — you can choose to register for one or the other. Or you can choose to do both.
UPCOMING BLOG SERIES! RECONNECT TO YOUR PRACTICE + INSPIRE YOUR TEACHING
In addition to my ongoing posts that feature pose breakdowns, anatomy guides to yoga, and sequences, I’m preparing to launch a new series of articles that provide practical tips for handling some of the day-to-day challenges of teaching yoga. Jump on our newsletter list if you haven’t already so you don’t miss them.
Jason Crandell is a natural teacher and author with nearly 20 years of experience. His accessible, grounded classes integrate the best elements of power yoga, anatomical precision and mindfulness teachings. Jason’s articulate, down-to-earth teaching will educate and empower you.
Named “one of the teachers shaping the future of yoga,” by Yoga Journal, Jason has been one of the most in-demand teachers at conferences around the world for over a decade. Considered a “teachers-teacher,” Jason has taught on countless teacher-training faculties, leads trainings globally, and regularly presents teacher-training content at esteemed conferences. Jason was a contributing editor for Yoga Journal Magazine where he has published over 25 articles and created their original series of practice podcasts. His critical-thinking skills will support you on your path of practice, teaching and self-inquiry.
The phrase, “teachers learn from their students,” is even more salient when your students are seasoned teachers themselves. Recently, my Advanced Teacher Training module in London was drawing to a close, and I asked the more experienced members of the group–many of whom have been teaching for years–to share one piece of advice to the aspiring teachers in the room. As the trainees started answering, I realized that we needed to document and post the conversation. For some of you, these tips will be new pieces of wisdom that you can apply to your teaching. For others, they will be a nice confirmation and reminder of what you already know. Either way, I truly believe that these insights will help make you a more skillful, successful, and satisfied teacher.
If you’d like to join this brilliant group of students to deepen your practice and advance your teaching, there are a few spots in my next two 100-hour modules in London! I had a great time teaching the first module — there’s nothing I enjoy more than engaging with bright, inquisitive students. I always learn so much and it’s a thrill to see people grow into themselves. I would love to see you there. (Dates are August 5th-18th, 2015 and January 15th-28th, 2016) Click here for all the details.
On being true to yourself:
1. “Learn what you need to do hold the space energetically and vocally. It’s a disservice to yourself if you are meek, too quiet, or apologetic about perceived failings. Be a conductor of that symphony of bodies. Move around the room and let students hear and feel your presence.”
—Michael Hoyer, USA