July 8, 2011

Holding the space for your yoga students

Yoga adjustments and assists are just one of the many ways teachers can learn to be with a student on their journey – meeting them where they are at, guiding them in the ‘direction’ of the pose and enhancing the student’s practice in a way that they see possibilities that may not have previously existed for them.

What is the difference between an adjustment and an assist?
Adjustment – verbal or hands on guidance for correct alignment
Assist – helping students experience a deeper expression with hands on

What is your intention with the adjust/assist?
Wayne Dyer describes intention as an invisible force of energy and reminds us everything is connected.  When we are helping someone expand a posture or encourage them to understand a posture in a different way, we are energetically connecting with them and holding the space for them to have an amazing experience.  In Deepak Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, he provides guidance on how to be clear of our intentions by inviting us to trust the outcome and practice present moment awareness.

When we are truly in the moment with a student and we have an intention of helping them have an amazing experience, we are setting the perfect foundation.

Below is a sampling of things to consider when teaching a class and offering adjustments/assists:


– Meditating and/or setting an intention before class is a wonderful way to ‘set the tone’.

    -Be aware of your energy – if you  are having a ‘bad’ day or experiencing a negative emotion (sadness, anger,  grief, etc.), be thoughtful before laying your hands on a student and transferring that energy to your student.

  • – Be mindful of how you enter a student’s space.

The Student

  • – Know your student’s practice and anticipate the outcome prior to considering the adjustment/assist.
  • – Be just as mindful and attentive with students who are flexible as you are with students who are not.  Flexible students often need to find the balance between strength and flexibility, therefore it’s not always helpful, or appropriate, to help a student ‘deepen’ an asana just because the student has significant flexibility.
  • – Safe adjustments/assists begin with an understanding of our personal experience with the given asana, knowledge of alignment and modifications for asanas and the knowledge of how to adjust/assist different body structures while addressing each individual’s potential limitations.


– Start with the adjustments of students who are doing an asana unsafely and move them into a safe expression by either guiding them verbally or with hands on.  (This depends on their preference – some students may prefer only verbal cues/corrections.)

– It is common to back a student out of a posture prior to helping them know where they should be in the asana.  Sometimes students take a deep expression of the asana, but with incorrect alignment, so backing them out some, or all, of the way will enable you to adjust toward the best expression for their body, on that day.

– Verbally stating/cuing a correction so the entire class can hear it will contribute to others assessing if they should make a self-adjustment.   It is not helpful to verbally correct by stating a generic instruction.  For example, if someone (or more than one student) has most of their weight in the heels of their feet, you would want to include additional information so only those that need to adjust will do so.  You might say ‘if your weight is residing in your heels, find the balance by shifting some of the weight into the front of your feet’.  That way if someone is already in Samasthiti, they will not self-adjust.   When verbally cuing, many students will automatically assume you are talking to them, therefore it is important to provide enough information so all students can determine if the verbal cue applies to them.


– Be firm and confident with your assists, without being forceful.  On the other hand, it is important to recognize that a weak, tentative touch may confuse your students – they will not know what you want them to do.

– The breath is as important in assists as it is in your own practice.  When assisting a student, move with the flow of the breath for the asana and be in sync with the breath of your student.

– The assist should be a balance of both teacher and student ‘working’.  The teacher should not be ‘holding’ the posture for the student, but ‘holding the space’ for the student to expand deeper into the asana.

  • – Avoiding ‘intimate’ adjustments – ask yourself if the adjustment/assist is truly necessary.  When you are new to assisting students it’s a good idea to stick with adjustments/assists that are not intimate in nature and then there will not be a question about the possibility of the assist leaving you or your student feeling uncomfortable.  As you progress in your own practice of assisting others, and as you get to know your students, you might want to explore some adjustments that may have initially seemed too intimate.  * This is a topic for an independent blog post  – coming soon! There was much discussion about this at our workshop when this topic came up.  As with most aspects of our individual practice and as teachers, the comfort level of potentially ‘intimate’ adjustments varies from person to person.

There are many, many ways in which we can help students find their comfortable edge and move to a new level of their practice while maintaining a balance of sthira and sukka (steadiness/firmness and ease/softness).  Check your local yoga studio for Adjustment/Assisting Workshop or Teacher Training Program to learn more and work toward feeling more confident in offering adjustments/assists to your students.  I’m also happy to share a copy of my handout from a recent Adjustment/Assist Workshop I held at Living Yoga in Concord, NH.  Log onto my website to get my contact information.  Namaste.

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