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Common Errors in Manual Yoga Adjustments – and How to Fix Them

Common Errors in Manual Yoga Adjustments | Scorpion Pose Adjustment

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.

See also Verbal Cues for Yoga Poses: The Easiest Ways to Immediately Improve Your Communication

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.

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Verbal Cues for Yoga Poses: The Most Common Instructional Errors We Make When Teaching Yoga

Handstand Assist | Verbal Cues for Yoga Poses

The ability to give clear, concise, and compelling verbal cues for yoga poses is one of the most distinguishing factors of a good yoga teacher. For all the time that we dedicate to doing bigger, harder postures and projecting our prowess across the social media space, most of us could spend a little more time honing our verbal craft. Students want to hear your words. Students want to understand your words. Students want to digest your instructions and learn from them. And, the reality is that being a good verbal communicator is hard. It takes practice. It takes strategy. And, like the subject of this post, it takes a willingness to look at the most common errors that we make and learn from them.

Look, we all make mistakes. We all speak redundantly, we all flub our words at times, and we all make up weird words that don’t exist on occasion. I think I said “hamstringossity” the other day. Seriously.

With a brave heart, let’s take a look at the most common instructional errors that we all make. Let’s start to clean up these warts and then, in the Part II of this post, we’ll look at The Easiest Ways to Immediately Improve Your Communication.

Here are the most common mistakes that we all make from time-to-time while giving verbal cues for yoga poses:

Not Speaking Loudly Enough

I know it’s obvious, but few things are more uncomfortable for students than being unable to hear their teacher’s instructions. It’s not only annoying, it’s unsettling.

There are three things to consider that impede your students’ ability to hear you: First, music that’s played too loud. Second, students are often in Down Dog or forward bends which turns their body away from you. And third, that sometimes you will not be facing your all of your students while you walk around the room and assist.

Dropping Your Voice Off a Cliff

What I call “dropping your voice off a cliff” comes from the paradox of speaking loudly enough that everyone can hear you while trying to keep a calm, quiet, soothing demeanor. What I mean by “dropping your voice off a cliff” is making the last word or two of an instructional sentence too quiet relative to the rest of the sentence. Our voice drops from full volume to low volume because we’re trying to soften the feel of an instruction. So we do something like this, “INHALE, LENGTHEN YOUR TORSO FORWARD INTO ARDHA UTTANASANA; EXHALE STEP BACK INTO downward-facing dog.” We change volume too much and the end of the sentence disappears. This is one of the many things I try to clean up about my delivery in all of my classes.

Using Upspeak

Compare these two phrases: “Step back into Downward-Facing Dog,” and, “Step back into Downward-Facing Dog??” Written the first way, it’s a clear command. Written the second way it’s a question. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Right. Right? Phrasing commands as questions is a pretty common vocal inflection that we can all do without.

Adding Filler Words

I do it. You do it. We all add filler words—often unconsciously. I was teaching a 200-hr yoga teacher training in Japan and, despite my inability to speak Japanese, I heard the phrase “et to” so many times during peer teaching sessions that I asked the interpreter what it means. She said, “It doesn’t mean anything, it’s similar to saying ‘like’ or ‘uh’ in English.” Filler words and phrases such as “like,” “good,” “yes” and “uh” are omnipresent in the classroom. Notice what your filler words are and, uh, like, practice not using them!

Lacking a Declarative Instruction by “ing-ing” Your Students to Death

Listen to this set of instructions: “Inhaling, stretching your arms overhead; exhaling, forward bending; inhaling lifting half-way up; exhaling stepping back to Downward-Facing Dog.” I could go on and on and there would be nowhere to put a period because there is no specific call to action. Using “ing” is fine, but constant usage creates a run-on sentence. Be mindful of your phrasing and don’t be afraid to come to a conclusion and add a period. Instead, try “Inhaling, stretch your arms overhead. Exhaling, forward bend.”

Crowding Your Students Ears

When you give an instruction you also need to give your students enough time and space to complete the instruction. When there is a constant stream of instructions your students don’t have time to do what you’re asking them to do. Remember to take a breath or two after each cue and allow your students to integrate the information.

Using Passive Voice

It’s generally preferable to use active voice because it’s more direct and conveys more certainty to the listener. Active voice is the subject of a sentence does an action (denoted by a verb).

Passive voice is when the subject is acted upon by the verb. Passive voice is wordier and harder for the listener to decipher the meaning of the sentence. I notice that people tend to use passive voice when they uncomfortable being direct.

Here’s an example of passive voice: “The action of the iliotibial band is to assist in knee extension and provide some external rotation force.” Notice the phrases, “the action of the …” and “…is to assist.” These are passive, unnecessary phrases that don’t help our students. Instead, the sentiment could be expressed like this: “The iliotibial band helps extend and externally rotate the knee.” This phrase is more simple, clear and direct.

Again, we all make mistakes. But, we owe it to our yoga students to refine the craft of verbal cueing yoga poses. Becoming aware of your errors is the first step. The second step is to focus on the six components of making your verbal cues more accurate, concise, and digestible. We’ll tackle this in Part II of this series.

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Episode 85: Clarify Your Purpose and Edit Yourself to Craft Effective Yoga Themes With Michelle Marchildon

Michelle Marchildon quote | Yoga Podcast | Yogaland Podcast

This week’s podcast with author and yoga teacher Michelle Marchildon focuses on her formula for theming your yoga classes. The formula comes from her book, Themeweaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga and is a clear, thorough approach to creating themes that are meaningful, not cheesy, and will help your students really deeply connect their physical practice to Michelle talks us through:
• The three types of students who come to class
• The four elements that make a good theme
• Theming don’ts
• Five rules for incorporating your themes into your classes
• How to organize your themes so that you can edit them and reuse them in the future


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RECOMMENDED AND RELATED LINKS
Themeweaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga

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Episode 70: Jason Crandell — Advocate for Your Students & Don’t Make Sweeping Claims

One of my favorite quotes from Jason is,”I believe that we should embrace anything and everything that helps us and our students be well.” On this episode, we dive into the meaning behind that quote and why it’s important to advocate for our students to try other modalities if needed. There are times when yoga teachers feel pressured to know all of the answers or to make a diagnosis and there are also times when we unintentionally make our students feel guilty if they’re not finding healing in the yoga room. Jason dispels these ideas and helps teachers cope with not having all the answers.


Subscribe via: iTunes | Acast | RSS

RECOMMENDED & RELATED LINKS
10 Key Values the Best Yoga Teachers Possess

WRITE A REVIEW
If you like the podcast, please leave a review or rating on iTunes! It makes it easier for others to find the podcast. If you don’t know how to leave a review, here are some step by step instructions. Woohoo! So easy!

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The Yoga Hustle: An Insider’s Guide to Survival

The Yoga Hustle (n.): A phase at the beginning of one’s teaching career or upon arrival in a new city; a period in which a yoga teacher takes on every possible class that his/her schedule will accommodate.

Thanks to Instagram, we have a clear image of the ‘leisurely yogi lifestyle’ that becoming a successful yoga teacher can yield. Never mind that the scantily clad beach asana photos in no way reflect the reality of daily life. Nevertheless, social media is actively shaping our collective vision of what being a yoga teacher looks like and giving us a false sense of the work involved.

Don’t fall for it, and certainly don’t quit your well-paying job and jump into teaching yoga with the hopes that it will lead you to life on the beach, free of responsibilities. If you are going to quit your job to become a yoga teacher, do so because you love to teach and want to share the practice, period. Because, you will most certainly go through a period of The Yoga Hustle and it looks something like this:

— Wake up at 6:30am to sit on your meditation cushion for a handful of minutes and get in a brief home practice before you rush out the door to teach the first of several classes that day.

— Between classes, zigzag across town to coffee-shop-nearest-next-class and buy an almond milk latte in hopes that it will help you drop into writing some social media posts. But with only 30 minutes until the next class, you get sucked into perusing not posting on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, which only feeds your anxiety.

— Get home between 9:00 and 10:00pm with just enough energy to dig something out of the fridge and shower before you fall into bed comatose.

Why Do It?

Let me be clear: The Hustle is a very real phenomenon. It’s also a necessary part of becoming a full-time yoga teacher. This period demands your time, your energy, and your focus in order to sharpen your teaching blade and make your mark in the face of talented and plentiful competition. It is a right of passage that centralizes around one theme: Do Your Work.

If you make the – ahem – “economically sound” decision to become a full time yoga teacher, The Hustle is your chance to get your name out there and build a following. Making a living teaching yoga is a numbers game, and the one true key to success is a strong and consistent student base. Teaching as much as possible not only gives you exposure, it also provides an opportunity to try on different studios and different times of day to get a better sense of when and where feels like a good fit. In other words, it gives you a chance to find your people.

In order to survive, however, it is important to remain grounded in the purpose this period serves, to get clarity around your expectations and boundaries, and to become unrelenting in your commitment to self-care. Like we do with the mind through our yoga practice, we must learn to yoke The Hustle, for if left unrestrained, it can quickly become an all-consuming force that sends us headfirst into burnout.

The Burnout Phase

Burnout isn’t just an adjective. It is a real condition with real psycho-emotional and physiological effects. Those of us prone to “I can do everything” thinking (read: “Sure, I can teach more!”) are most susceptible, and we often don’t see it coming. For those of us in The Hustle, it often happens because we prioritize teaching and let self-care become a matter of “if there is extra time.” (There never is.) We wake up one day, haggard and foggy brained and coffee-dependent, and realize that we haven’t actually done our own practice in weeks – or even months. We start to teach go-to sequences because we don’t have the time or mental capacity to think about content, which quickly becomes boring. And then we start to resent our work.

If we let The Hustle take over our lives, burnout becomes inevitable. Just as simply, however, we can pull on the reigns and steer The Hustle to make it a manageable and even enjoyable experience.

Keys to Surviving

1. Make a road map. If you enter The Hustle without a clear goal (read: exit strategy), you have no hope of escape; rather, you will run from studio to studio endlessly and grow weary in the process. Get clear on what you want to be doing one month, six months, one year from now, and make a plan of action to start you moving in that direction. Figure out how much on average you need to make per week to live comfortably. (Yes, yoga teacher, you need to behave like the sole proprietor you are and have a real notion of the financials of your small business.) Using that number as a baseline, write out your ideal schedule. Which of your current classes do you love? Which yield consistent turnout (i.e. revenue)? Which classes do you find draining? Figure out how far you are from both your target number and your ideal schedule. Over time, start to make shifts in this direction. Be sure to block out dedicated admin time in your week and don’t waiver when the tempting subbing opportunity shows up.

2. Be authentic in your teaching. Trying to do what others do the way they do it is draining and unsustainable in the long run. Get clear on your purpose and let that be what guides your teaching, in terms of content as well as context. In his trainings, Jason always asks students, “If you could teach one thing, what would this be?” The answer to this question is rarely “Handstand.” How do you want students to feel when they walk away from your classes? What take-away do you most want to share about the practice? The more you can stay connected to this, the more meaningful your teaching will feel. And don’t get distracted by the paths that your peers are taking; you are you and you have your own gifts to share.

3. Consistency will save your sanity. Another Jason-ism: Don’t be afraid to teach the same sequence all week – or all month! Teaching the same sequence saves you some brain space and it gives you the chance to refine the sequence over time. It also allows the students the opportunity to drill, to repeat, to learn. How novel.

4. Make time for self care. Time can’t be found. But you can choose to prioritize your health and well-being to avoid burnout. Create and commit to some easy non-negotiables that will help nourish and replenish you. Hike on Saturdays. Schedule a massage (and keep the appointment). Have a bedtime and stick to it. Do the things that feed your body, mind and soul — things that you enjoy doing – so that you have an easier time setting boundaries and saying no to things that aren’t serving you.

See also Survivor’s Guide to Teaching Yoga When Life Throws You a Curveball

5. Be a student. Stay inspired. You are a yoga teacher now. Make your practice part of your job. Many of us become yoga teachers because we love to practice yoga – but like Jason always says, just because you like to eat food doesn’t mean you should open a restaurant. In other words, practicing yoga and teaching yoga are two very different experiences. It is this realization that sends most of us crashing into the burnout wall. Don’t let your practice fall by the wayside. You need to feed the fire that set you on this journey in the first place.

Mira Valeria is a San Francisco-based Yoga instructor and the founder of Santa Fe Thrive, an indoor cycling and yoga studio in Santa Fe, NM. She is a writer, translator and wanderlust polyglot. She is available for private lessons, workshops, teacher trainings and interpreting gigs around the globe.

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