Tracey L. Kelley
External vs. Internal Adjustment
As with most aspects of yoga, there are varying philosophies regarding the best approach to teaching. Some instructors wouldn't dream of adjusting a student in a pose, claiming it takes away from the internal experience. Others are constantly hands-on, getting down on all fours to determine the distance between the heel and the mat in Downward-Facing Dog. (Or, as renowned yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar demonstrates at left, straightening the legs of a student in Side Headstand, or Parsva Sirsasana).
As I continue to learn from my teachers and my students, I see value in a hybrid approach to hands-on adjusts and assists for three reasons: Safety. Deepening. Exploration.
Safety. You're going to be safe in my class, and to do that, we need to have good communication and understanding. If an injury happens because of yoga, it's most often due to an overzealous attempt, or when a student neglects to tell his or her teacher about an existing condition, such as a lower back issue that requires modifications so the discs don't slip in forward extension. So, as external as they might appear, adjusts and assists help you stay safe as your body continues to open and gives you an opportunity to explore. Deepening. I can't tell you how many times I feel I'm about as open in a posture as it gets, and then my teacher leans into my hip, opens my arm, or extends my back. In that moment, I realize I might have been holding back a bit. Why? Who knows. Safety, uncertainty, lack of recognizing ability, laziness, no desire to move further...the list is endless. Rarely is it a physical reason, even if it feels like that on the surface. What's interesting is the shift in perspective when an assist or an adjustment encourages you to move beyond a set point. This awakens something more internal, and helps you take more ownership of your practice. Exploration. Here's when we build upon the first points and form a partnership to create intrinsic freedom in your practice. This is a fine line for a teacher, because I want to demonstrate a helpful presence while at the same time, get out of your way! Especially in a group class setting, the cues may change to be more observational, less instructional, or maybe I simply walk by you and listen to your breath. This is your opportunity to explore, and it's my responsibility to take my cues from you and step in only as needed. What I want in this stage is to continue to help you expand your experience, whether directly in class or as further thoughts for home practice. One of my goals as a teacher is to be there if you need me, and I can't do that stationed at the front of the room, expecting you to watch my every move. Let me practice alongside you, and we'll discover things together.
Image: The Iyengar Yoga National Association of the U.S. (IYNAUS)