Nov 11, 2015
Yoga Adjustment and Alignment
Some teachers I've talked to, regard alignment and adjustment as the same thing. I make that distinction here before I go any further:
- ensuring the student's body geometry on a pose is sound - like being vertically stacked on a handstand, or shoulders directly above the wrist on a plank.
- once aligned, assisting the student to sink deeper into the pose - like stepping on the student's hands while lifting the chest up and straightening the arms on a Wheel
I'd been practising yoga for about 15 years now, on and off the mat. I remember that even from day-one, the teacher told us that yoga is not about the pose - it's about the breath. The yoga video-talks say the same thing whether it's from a guru or an established teacher. The yoga books echo all of that - it's not about the pose, it's about the breath. That's the talk.
In actual yoga classes though, it is standard practise for the teacher to adjust the student to sink deeper into the pose - sometimes with such emphasis and intent that it seems to be the objective. In fact, I have seen iconic gurus adjust their students with such intensity that the student practically grimaces in pain. The scene almost resembles that of a Thai massage - where the masseuse pulls the patients arms while using his legs to push against the patient's body. I've also seen students and teachers (attending another class) alike get injured through adjustments by the teacher conducting a class. In a lot of classes, the breath is not even given that much emphasis. This is where I find the disparity between the Talk and the Walk.
If yoga is all about the breath and not so much the pose, then why is it that teachers adjust the students sometimes beyond the safety edge resulting in injuries? If the student is already on his safety edge and taking refuge in the breath, then why even adjust the student to begin with? Is the pose more important now than the breath? If flexibility is the main objective of yoga, then shouldn't the gymnasts, dancers and ballerinas make the best yogis?
Personally, I align the student for proper body geometry, like having the wrist directly below the shoulder on a plank. But I would refrain from adjusting the student to sink deeper in a pose, like pushing the back down to the knees on a seated forward bend. My reasons are as follows:
- the adjustment, even if done the right way, may not be compliant to the student's unique body anatomy. This could be painful and injurious. Again, I've seen this happen to a seasoned teacher who attended another teacher's class.
- the student may already be max-ed out on the pose. Even the slightest adjustment, again, even if done the right way, could cause a full body cramp. This happened to me a few times already while I was attending someone else's class.
- even if the student may not be max-ed out on the pose, how does the teacher know where the safety edge of a particular student end, and injury begin? Only the student knows that, but oftentimes, the student, thinking that teacher knows best, would endure the adjustment which could result in an injury.
As a Teacher
As a general rule, when I teach a class, I rely largely on my cueing, to take the students all the way to their safety edge, reminding them that only they will know where that fine line is. Once there, explore that space without going beyond, or risk injury. I tell them never to kill themselves over a pose - because it's not about the pose - it's about the breath and the mindfulness they put into the pose. And that if they injure themselves because they pushed their bodies beyond the limit, then, they misunderstand what yoga is all about - that they don't get it!
As a Student
I teach yoga, but a lot of times, I'm also a student, attending someone else's class. Since I max-out my stretches on a pose (or in my parlance, Samastitihi pa lang, nagpapakamatay na!), I'd rather not be adjusted by the teacher. I try to make that point without making the teacher uneasy. However, I always welcome being aligned - it's rare for a person to have that special gift of knowing their body-bearing, when in space.
I'm not saying adjustment is bad. A lot of students have benefited from being adjusted if the safety edge is not crossed. The students themselves, oftentimes, want to be adjusted. They take pride and accomplishment in using their flexibility as a yogic benchmark in their deepening practice - "I can reach my toes now...I must be doing better with my yoga".
I'm simply citing adjustment as a caveat because it's so easy to get carried away with the pose (with resulting injuries) and lose touch that yoga is about the breath and the mindfulness first, before it's the pose. Maybe it's just me, but even if a student still cannot reach his toes after a year of yoga, but he is focused on the breath and mindful of the body sensation while doing the poses, then he is doing perfect yoga. Yoga is a journey...of staying with the breath and mindfulness while weaving the asanas into a meditative vinyasa. Yoga is not a destination of 'reaching your toes' - my metaphor for pose-driven objectives. Getting flexible (or stronger, or more balanced) is a side-effect of yoga - not the objective.
Cebu City, Philippines
Tops - hilltop offering panoramic view of the city
Taoist Temple - temple on a hillslope in Lahug with panoramic view of the city
- Hostel Seven Cebu - newly opened, resto/bar, central location, solo/group travellers
Juana Osmeña Street, Cebu City
- S Hotel & Residences - new hotel, luxury rooms, central location
827 M. Velez corner Andres Abellana St.
resto / cafe / bar
- Fujinoya - new and refreshing twists to Western style desserts using Japanese techniques
Wilson St., Lahug, Cebu City - tel. 888.6075
- Bad Boys Wingz - Buffalo Wings, unique versions of sauces! Great service, accommodating staff, bad boys vibe
Kasambagan, Cebu City | (032) 415 4811
- Love Yoga World - yoga studio
11/fl, Skyrise 2 Tower, IT Park, Lahug, Cebu City
- Yoga Now - first Yoga and Wellness studio in Mactan offering daily Yoga Classes
at The Yacht Club Mactan
- Cebu Mountain Bike Adventure - MTB tours, bike sales and repairs. Bed and Breakfast + Resto Cafe + wifi
1298-b V.Rama Ave, Guadalupe, Cebu City | 0942.959.7451
- Camotes Islands - caves, beaches
- Cebu City - rich in culture and history, 2nd largest city in the Philippines
- Moalboal - amazing coral reef system, sardine bowl, deep drop-off for freediving
- Oslob - Butanding (whale shark) watching
- Bantayan Island - long stretch of fine white sand beach, Virgin Island for snorkeling
- Malapascua Island - divers' paradise for seeing the rare Thresher Shark
- Cantabaco Cave - Toledo
- Barile Waterfalls - Barile
- Whale Shark Tour - Oslob
- Carcar - chicharon and lechon in public market
Nov 11, 2015
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