During my yoga teacher training we did not approach the art of adjusting students, this was offered as an additional training upon completion of the initial course. In many yoga classes, adjustments are the norm, and having a teacher come and lay on your back in a forward fold is the rule rather than the exception. Some people do not like to be touched but may want to make their own adjustments in poses, but where do you start?
Foundation, Foundation, Foundation
The building blocks of all yoga poses are solid foundations, just like your house. Setting up the pose from the ground up, will help you to build strength and create space for you to lengthen and stretch out and up. Whichever part of your body is on the floor is considered your foundation, so in a standing pose that is our feet. To engage the feet, begin by lifting the toes to press the ball of the foot into the floor. Replace your toes (one at a time if you feel like being fancy) and pause, allowing your body to root down into the ground. Next press the toes into the floor and raise the heel, take a few breaths and then replace the heel down, feeling your weight balanced between each side and the front and back of the foot. Now you have a strong foundation upon which to build any standing yoga poses.
For those working on arm balances, our hands become our foundation and we can approach building the pose in a similar way to standing postures. Gripping with the finger tips and pulling up with the palm of the hand help to create a solid base, while giving you the ability to adjust and balance in a pose.
Use the breath
I know you all get fed up hearing me waffle on about breathing during classes, but it really does help. The breath is the fuel we use to help us enter and exit postures. It lets us know when we’ve gone too far into a stretch, because we hold our breath or it becomes less smooth, and it also helps us to deepen our poses. The breath is the essence of our yoga practice and the postures are there to challenge the calm breathing.
You can use the breath to help you adjust your own yoga poses, by focussing on the inhales and exhales you are connecting your mind and body. As you inhale think about lengthening, growing taller, in whichever pose you’re working on. This will help to create space in the body and the inhale is a natural opportunity for the body to expand. On the exhale, slowly (and carefully) deepen into the pose, working within your own current limitations. Using the breath this way, you can increase your mobility and endurance, while also playing with the edge of your comfort zone. Just make sure that you always work within a safe range of motion and don’t try anything too crazy.
Paul the wall
Wall yoga is an excellent way to work on correct alignment and let go of the ego, as we realise that we can’t quite reach so far while maintaining the integrity of the postures. The wall is a great place to work on opening the shoulders while giving your hamstrings a bit of attention to. Stand far enough away from the wall so that you have space to fold forward and place both hands against the wall. You want to create a right angle between your upper and lower body, coming into a wall supported downward dog. This is a gentler version of the traditional downward dog but you can up the ante by pressing your hands into the wall, dropping your head between your upper arms and engaging your shoulder blades down your back. Hold for as many breaths as you like and exit on an inhale to prevent dizziness.
Use a prop
I love props and have quite a collection of them at home. Often when I’m teaching, I will begin the class sitting on a folded blanket, a block or a bolster. This helps me to sit taller, allows my breath to deepen and helps send a signal to my ever-controlling brain that we are about to get some yoga going. By sitting on a folded blanket or half block in seated poses we can help to lengthen the spine, creating space in the body before entering a twist or a forward fold. Creating some length in your spine will allow you to fold or twist deeper. Again, the breath can be a great support, inhaling to grow taller and exhaling to twist or to fold forward.
Experience the pose in a new way
Try some sun salutations with your eyes closed. Not as easy as it seems, but removing the sense of sight, even temporarily, allows you to experience the movement and postures in a new way. Without looking at your fellow yogis in the class around you, you can feel how your body moves and intuitively decide when to push yourself or to hold back.
Whether you enjoy being physically adjusted by your yoga teacher or are looking for a way to deepen and progress in your yoga practice, there is a place for adjustments. Beginning slowly is the key and then building on this as and when you feel more comfortable. Asking an experienced yoga teacher for advice is a good place to start, but don’t forget that yoga is for you and you should feel comfortable (yet challenged) throughout your yoga class.