Friday, August 4, 2017

Notes on Hands-On "Adjustments" in Yoga Classes

As an IAYT* Certified Yoga Therapist, Group Yoga Instructor, and Dance and Movement Educator, with over 15 years specializing in the care and prevention of injuries for athletes, dancers, and fitness enthusiast, I believe I have gained the experience, knowledge, and appreciation for what is necessary when guiding participants in group Yoga, Dance, and Movement Classes; private sessions; workshops; as well as mentoring new instructors.

I have been a Yoga practitioner since 1990, and a Yoga and Dance instructor since 1996. I became a Certified Personal Trainer in 2000, and began working with private Yoga Therapy Clients in 2002. I’ve always found it exciting and informative to take as many workshops, certifications, and Teacher Trainings in various modalities.

A few years ago, I was inspired to take a new 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training. 

It had been years since I had done a Yoga certification or training that was more than 5-7 days- most of my continuing education budget had been spent on Dance or Sports Medicine related CEC/CEUs over the last few years. I figured that I’d learn something new about yoga philosophy, vinyasa, and asana through my older, more experienced eyes; thinking perhaps I’d “see” things that I may not have “seen” when I first began my yoga training during my years as a young dancer/yoga/fitness professional.

The inspiration to re-visit Yoga Teacher Training came from curiosity that had sprung up as I was getting settled into a new town, taking Yoga classes anywhere and everywhere my schedule would allow, and noticing a new trend in Yoga Studios: instructors, young and old, seasoned and unseasoned, were willy-nilly putting hands on people, and "offering" oftentimes unwarranted “adjustments.”

I've witnessed "teachers" sitting on a student's lower back/sacrum, straddling students while placing one hand on each cheek (glute) and pressing firmly, leaning on a persons shoulders and upper back while forcing them deeper into twists. I've seen some horrible things! Just search "yoga adjustments" on YouTube and you'll see some surprisingly dangerous examples. And plenty of them are filmed during Teacher Trainings! 

Let me tell you, I am not a fan!

Only until I have cultivated a connection, and mutual respect and understanding with a group class participant, will I see it appropriate to engage in physical contact when providing direction, cuing, alignment correction, or emotional support.

I have rarely witnessed it to be beneficial or even necessary to place focus on manual “adjustments” as a priority “tool” for assisting Yoga, Dance, and physical activity participants to find a deeper understanding, ability to engage with, or execute a pose, activity, or exercise.

In my opinion, manual “adjustments” oftentimes can distract from the goal of allowing participants to truly engage with and rely upon their own inner-wisdom  to inform and inspire the awareness of their physical, emotional, and spiritual abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

I believe that hands-on “adjustments” can inhibit the opportunity to explore the transition and progression of an exercise, or continued hold of a posture. And by not allowing participants to explore and progress on their own, an opportunity to create beneficial neural muscular patterns, which assist in avoiding injury, is lost. I see the utilization of  "adjustments" as a potential disservice to a participant’s journey of exploration.

I am in no way saying that hands-on assistance is inappropriate in all instances.

There are many experienced and extremely competent Yoga Instructors and health and fitness professionals who understand how to considerately assist their clients/students by using a “hands-on” approach to assisting with alignment, progression of postures, and alleviating muscular and emotional tension.

I am confident to say that I am an experienced and competent Yoga Instructor, Movement and Dance Educator, and health and fitness professional. And YES, I do use a “hands-on” approach with clients with whom I am familiar.

However, I only offer subtle-touch assistance, and manual subtle-touch “adjustments” when I feel it is beneficial, and will in no way pose risk of injury.

I am concerned with how many terribly unqualified Yoga instructors I have recently witnessed and experienced. So many of these instructors were very quick to place their hands on people. These instructors had very little to no awareness of the varying needs of a wide range of demographics, and continued to demonstrate a lack of basic assessment tools and critical thinking skills. I've encountered several with bios that indicated extensive Teacher Training hours, yet demonstrated very limited knowledge of the human body. I was in one class where the instructor kept mentioning how you can “feel the burn in your biceps,” while pointing and patting her thighs while we were holding Utkatasana (Chair) for an infinite amount of time. Frightening!!! Especially since many of these obviously unqualified instructors have classes that are usually full due to their excellent pre/during/post-yoga class group-selfie-posting and social media skills.

These are the same overconfident, “green instructors” who feel “empowered” by one 200 Hour Teacher Training, to go out in the world and overzealously begin putting their hands on people in a group class, pressing, twisting, poking, and “adjusting. “ Help!

I find this worrisome.

Considering that the majority of overconfident “green instructors” rarely possess the skills themselves to safely execute the poses/postures/exercises properly, much less possess the ability to safely verbally cue a room full of strangers into it, through it, and out of it.

I have had several clients come to me after they had been injured by an overzealous and inexperienced yoga “instructor” who had given a “manual adjustment” in a group class. And, I too have had the experience of well-meaning, inexperienced Yoga instructors pressing on me in child’s pose; lifting my legs higher in a three-legged dog; pushing me deeper in a twist; oftentimes, without my consent or without even having made any connection or introduction prior to or during class.

It is my opinion that the “modern” Yoga community would benefit greatly if, prior to providing instruction on “manual adjustments,” Teacher Trainings placed more focus on ensuring that would-be-instructors truly understand the concept, goals, and benefits of each pose they intend to instruct, as well as have the ability to execute each posture in the capacity that best serves the demographic they intend to teach.

While I do believe it is beneficial to discuss the risks as well as the benefits of “manual adjustments” in a Yoga practice while completing a Yoga Teacher Training Program, I believe it is beyond the scope of practice, for at least 90% of would-be-instructors, to be encouraged to take a “hands on” approach as they embark upon their journey as Yoga instructors, after only a 200 hour Teacher Training.

I believe, if the would-be-instructor has demonstrated the ability to competently cue students through postures, verbally and visually, after completing a 200 hour Yoga Training Program, they will not have to rely on offering “hands-on” adjustments to assist class participants.

Additionally, I believe it does a disservice to yoga class participants that many "modern" 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Programs insist on a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching manual “adjustments.” 

It's important to understand that each participant arriving to a Yoga class is carrying, creating, and experiencing their own personal, physical, emotional, and spiritual history, and will receive and respond to verbal guidance and physical touch individually; awareness of this should take priority over insisting on a choreographed approach to “manual adjustments."

My main priority as a Yoga instructor and Movement Educator is not to provide “manual adjustments,” but to inspire each participant’s physical, emotional, and spiritual curiosity in relation to themselves and the evolution of their practice.

I believe that an instructor’s ability to asses, connect, and considerately guide class participants is more valuable than any hands-on “adjustment, and allows the opportunity for each individual to cultivate the best tools to support their practice in a safe and nurturing environment.

I would love to hear you opinion on hands-on “adjustments.”

- Melissa Adylia C-IAYT

*International Association of Yoga Therapist (IAYT)

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