Prasaritta Padottanasa was something I struggled with. As I pushed forward, my naturally tight hamstrings and mild sacral imbalance were causing me to be in a state of resistance. The floor was six inches away. One morning, my teacher gently pushed her leg in front of my own while her warm hands, which were more suggestive rather than insistent, lengthened my spine up and forward. She whispered, “I have you,” on an exhalation, I felt something release as my crown kissed the mat. I’ve never doubted since that day the power of hands-on assistance. Touch has undeniable power, and I’ve found, as a yoga student and teacher, that well-executed adjustment can enhance the yoga experience at many levels.
The foundation and alignment
The foundation of yoga poses is a strong one. It’s important to have a strong alignment and a strong foundation. This will keep you safe and prevent injury. They also open up the nadis to receive prana and give us strong roots to build on. It may not be enough to use visual and verbal cues because students may lack body awareness. Using excessively long instructions can also lead students to become absorbed in their thoughts and forget about their bodies.
A teacher may discuss the exact placement of the pelvis when performing a standing twist. Students understand the cues intellectually but fail to apply them to their bodies. The teacher can guide the pelvis in the correct position when someone struggles to understand the words.
Students can safely refine and explore the asana after experiencing the stability and intelligence of the fundamental principles.
Support and stability
Support and stability are the key concepts in adjustments. When we dance at the edge of our comfort zones; yoga is most exciting. Surrender is essential in this area, where fear can be most prevalent.
Take Sirsasana, for instance. This pose has a lot of fear potential. Verticality is difficult to achieve, and there is a high risk of falling. It is difficult to breathe and take appropriate action when you are just trying to keep upright.
Then your teacher will come to you and secure the pose with their hands wrapped around your calves. (No more falling!) The teacher then rolls the calves inwards and upwards to support and guide your exploration. Ascension, too! They let go of your legs, knowing you can do it, and place their palms on your lower back to remind you of their presence and breathing. For a brief moment, you are a bridge between heaven and Earth, a lightning rod for prana. A deep love of this once terrifying pose is born.
Hands-on assistance and the bond between teacher and student
Yoga classes can be large and impersonal due to its growing popularity. You may not know the name of your teacher, let alone your personality, your challenges, and your strengths. The teacher-student relationship can be strengthened by physical touch. Touching and being touched are both signs of trust, a sign of mutual affection. Touch can calm, encourage and ground us immediately in our bodies.
Should choose a teacher that you trust implicitly to get the most out of adjustments. You can communicate with your teacher to make adjustments before class starts. A simple “No thanks,” “Too Much,” or “More please,” can help keep the conversation going without interrupting the practice. After class, thank your teacher for the lesson and give any feedback you feel is necessary. You must respect your boundaries if you don’t want to be touched.
All of us are in this together
As teachers and students, we are all linked in the chain of ever-evolving yoga wisdom. I often calm down an agitated student by placing my hand gently on their sacrum. This is what my teacher taught me and how their teacher taught them. This simple gesture lets my student know I’ve got them, as I honor those who came before.