How to Adjust Your Students in 6 Common Yoga Poses

Allie Flavio
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Ever experienced a yoga class where the teacher’s touch transformed the experience? Like left you floating on cloud nine? Or broke down the alignment of a pose that just never clicked?
 
I’ve experienced this, many times over.
 
And I’ve felt all three of the scenarios above – transformed, floating, and more clarity.
 
The power of touch is undeniable.
 
We, as human beings, thrive from personal contact. We can either be uplifted or torn down by this touch, just like words and emotions. And that’s why as a yoga teacher, it’s your job, my job, everyone’s job – to touch with pure intention, the utmost respect, and care.
 
You have to give a shit.
 
You have to ask permission.
 
You have to move with intention.
 
And you must do it from a place of genuine care (versus ‘fixing’ someone).
 
Let’s take a brief moment to reflect on the beginning of our personal yoga journey as a student.
 
It was messy. It didn’t make sense. Our hips were all over the place. Our breath was unsteady. Our knees didn’t understand alignment. Our backs moved too much or too little. Our feet were barely attached to our legs. And Sanskrit names? Forget about it!
 
And now, fast forward to the present moment.
 
Take a moment to reflect on all the yoga classes you’ve experienced, the self-study, the teachers who’ve guided, helped, and cared along the way. The falls. The hard points. And the amazing points, like your first time flying in crow pose.
 
All of these moments involved a teacher, and that teacher has molded you, shaped you, exposed you, opened you, and uplifted you through their words, and hopefully – their touch!
 
So with that said, this article is for ALL the yoga teachers out there, especially the newbies. As teachers, we cannot be afraid to touch, we cannot knowingly allow people to practice poor alignment, and we cannot deny our value and self-worth as guides and healers.
 
It’s simply not an option. Period.
 
And to be clear, I’m a newbie yoga teacher, so the act of touch doesn’t come easy to me. I can easily identify poor alignment, but my first intention is to use my words, then demonstrate, and lastly – I’ll touch someone.
 
It’s a hard scenario, trust me, I get it.
 
So to help clearly and confidently write this tutorial, I sought advice from another teacher. My dear friend, Rissa Wray, is a skilled yoga teacher, massage therapist, and Thai massage therapist. For her, touch comes naturally from years of education, training, and experience.
 
Below are a few tips on how to practice safety, intention, and authenticity when making adjustments during your yoga class:
 
Yoga Teacher Tips:

  • Announce yourself either verbally or physically with your presence
  • Ask permission, especially if you don’t personally know the student
  • Be attentive and nurturing, moving from a space of genuine care

 
Principles of Touch:

  • Get grounded before moving into touch. This will help provide support and stability for both the student and you
  • Be on the same level as the adjustment you’re making (see the photos for more clarity)
  • Maintain proper body mechanics for your personal safety and the exchange of energy between you and the student
  • Always keep the arms straight when using downward pressure
  • Choose to either work with your breath – inhaling to gently take pressure off and exhaling to deepen your touch. Or practice static holds by keeping the hands firmly rooted and holding the posture/your touch in a firm place

 
 
Here are 6 poses to help you learn how to adjust your yoga students:
 

1. Child’s Pose

The How-To (Version 1):

  • Practice the tips above by keeping your back (as the adjuster) lengthened and your arms straight during downward pressure.
  • Either choose to do the static hold or work with your breath.
  • Place hands on the pelvis with fingertips pointing towards you.
  • Use your hands to encourage a posterior tilt in the pelvis which will create a more grounding experience.

 
allie-childs-pose-2
 
The How-To (Version 2):

  • Take a stance similar to Warrior 1.
  • Ask the student to lengthen their arms long, interlace the hands, and wrap them around your ankle to create traction and lengthen the side body.
  • Same as above – fingertips point away from you as you lunge forward and lean downward, to encourage lengthening of the side body, a posterior tilt in the pelvis, plus a grounding sensation.

 
allie-Childs-Pose-1
 
Cautions: Avoid students with sensitive knees or knee injuries. Child’s pose involves deep flexion in the knee joint, so we want to avoid further flexion for those who experience discomfort.
 
 

2. Downward Facing Dog

The How-To:

  • Place one foot in between the students hands and mimic a shallow Warrior 1 with the back heel grounded.
  • Keep the arms straight and engaged.
  • Place the hands on the pelvis, framing the sacrum.
  • Same as above – fingertips point away and down to encourage lengthening of the side body, lifting of the sits bones, and a grounding sensation of the tailbone.

 
allie-Downward-Facing-Dog
 
 

3. Three-Legged Down Dog

The How-To:

  • Stand behind the student in a shorter Warrior 1 stance.
  • Create a gentle hip to hip contact for stability and support.
  • Bring the hand nearest to the head to rest on the shoulder blade (see photo).
  • Wrap and hook your other arm around the leg, right above the knee (see photo).
  • Use your strength to lean back, open the hip as you lean back, and continue to ground the shoulder down.

 
Three-Legged-Down-Dog
 
*Side note – this was my first experience with this adjustment, and damn – it feels epic! I highly recommend it; however, try practicing it on a friend first and then students you know personally.
 
 

4. Warrior Two

The How-To:

  • Mirror the student’s stance by taking Warrior 2 behind them. This might seem weird, but your body will act as a stabilizing force because if the knee is caving in, the pose itself is unstable. So to adjust the knee alone can quickly throw people off resulting in the student and/or you losing stability.
  • Use your fingertips to draw the knee back into alignment.
  • Use your back arm to traction the hand, arm, and chest back into alignment (centered over the perineum).

 
allie-warrior-2
 
 

5. Reverse Warrior

The How-To:

  • Take a kneeling position to get yourself on the same level as the body part that’s being adjusted.
  • Place one hand at the top of the thigh and the other at the side body (right above the hip bone).
  • Gently use your hand pressure to encourage a lateral opening while maintaining the bent knee stance.
  • Less is more here!

 
allie-reverse-warrior
 
 

6. Seated Forward Fold

The How-To:

  • Take a kneeling lunge position, keep everything long and engaged, and be sure that you are practicing proper body mechanics!
  • Place the heel of the hand at the hip crease with the fingers pointing out and down.
  • Use the hands to encourage an external rotation of thighs and hips.
  • Choose to do a static hold or move with breath here.

 
allie-forward-fold-2
 
allie-forward-fold-1
 
 
Yoga teachers! Did that help?
 
Do you feel more confident and able to touch your students?
 
I truly hope so!
 
Please remember to always approach your students with genuine intention, ask permission, and just do what feels right!
 
And if you’re not ready to touch, that’s okay too. Try practicing on a family member or friend, seek out another yoga teacher teacher, or take a yoga adjustment workshop!
 
Let’s Talk! Do you use touch within your yoga teaching? Did you immediately start to use this tool or was it a few months/years into your teaching practice? Are you a newbie yoga teacher who’s unsure of touch?
 
As always – questions, suggestions, comments, feedback, and general yoga love, please leave it down below.
 
Until next time – xoxo.
 

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Allie Flavio

Allie is the soul behind TheJourneyJunkie.com and a yoga girl at heart. When Allie’s not blogging about yoga/travel advice or doing/teaching yoga, you can find her relaxing by the beach in sunny St. Petersburg, FL. A born and raised Florida girl, Allie is an outdoor junkie who loves the ocean, fresh air, and a delicious fish sandwich! To learn more about her yoga and travel adventures, check out her blog The Journey Junkie.

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