Hands-off as­sists

Yoga Journal - - Home Practice -

While phys­i­cal ad­just­ments are a very di­rect way to cor­rect your stu­dents’ align­ment and help them find more open­ing or re­lease in a pos­ture, they’re also a very per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. And be­cause it’s down­right im­pos­si­ble to know all of your stu­dents’ per­sonal, cul­tural, and other bound­aries when it comes to touch (not to men­tion the phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions that can po­ten­tially make your touch in­ju­ri­ous), a num­ber of teach­ers are tak­ing a hands-off ap­proach to ad­just­ments in asana classes. Here, top yoga teach­ers share their go-to non­con­tact strate­gies.

Have your stu­dents use their own hands. Get­ting fa­mil­iar with our bod­ies’ im­bal­ances and quirks can bet­ter in­form our prac­tice. “When I first started prac­tic­ing Iyen­gar Yoga, the cues were so pre­cise and de­tailed that I lit­er­ally didn’t know how to do or feel them. So I started to take my hands to my own body to un­der­stand the en­gage­ment and align­ment,” says Cran­dell. By cue­ing a stu­dent to wrap her fin­gers around her lower ribs and gen­tly twist her torso open in Utthita Parsvakonasana (Ex­tended Side An­gle Pose), for ex­am­ple, or to place her hands on her sacrum to check if her hips are level in Parivrtta Trikonasana (Re­volved Tri­an­gle Pose), you ac­tu­ally prompt your stu­dent to ex­pe­ri­ence the feel of your cues, says Cran­dell. Th­ese kinds of self-ad­just­ments are par­tic­u­larly great for kines­thetic learn­ers who do well with touch.

Use hand ges­tures. Even the clear­est ver­bal cues can be con­fus­ing for new prac­ti­tion­ers, or any­one try­ing a new pose. If you see that a stu­dent isn’t fol­low­ing your words, demon­strate the pose and then use your hands to mimic the ac­tions you are cue­ing. “I of­ten look like an air­line flight at­ten­dant when mo­tion­ing de­sired ac­tions in class,” says Ezrin. For ex­am­ple, you might point to a stu­dent’s front knee if you see it track­ing in­ward in Virab­hadrasana I or II (War­rior Pose I or II), and mo­tion that you want her to move it out­ward.

Pull out the props. Blocks, blan­kets, straps, and other props can help stu­dents get into op­ti­mal align­ment and give them pro­pri­o­cep­tive feed­back, which al­lows them to find dif­fer­ent ways to create mus­cu­lar en­gage­ment. For ex­am­ple, if a stu­dent hy­per­ex­tends her front leg in Ex­tended Tri­an­gle Pose, you might place a strap be­hind her calf and gen­tly pull it for­ward, ask­ing her to push back into the strap to help her un­lock the knee joint. (Don't do this as­sist if the stu­dent has an un­re­paired or un­healed ACL tear.) “Yes, you can do this with your hands—but the strap al­lows you to stand back a bit and ob­serve how the as­sist is work­ing, or not work­ing, for the stu­dent,” says An­gela Clark, co­founder of Mala Yoga in Brook­lyn, New York.

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