The Power of Adjustments and Alignment
Adjustments and alignment in yoga is critical to practicing yoga safely and to benefit from the postures. Verbal cues and hand-on adjustments, if one is comfortable, can help the practitioner achieve a posture effortlessly. The entire experience of practicing yoga changes when proper alignment is achieved. Even if this means doing a beginner-level variation or taking the support of props, alignment should be a priority.
For yoga teachers, many yoga teacher training courses have modules that help you learn the significance of adjustments and alignment, how to correct a posture, hands-on adjustments and alignments and more. There are even continuing education courses, like this 50-hour Hands-on Adjustments yoga teacher training courses that solely focus on the art of yoga adjustments and alignment. Let’s understand in better detail what yoga adjustments and alignment are.
What is yoga adjustment and alignment?
Yoga alignment refers to getting the posture right. Whether it is practicing a simple backbend, like the Cobra Pose, or an advanced one like the Wheel Pose, or doing the Headstand, alignment will not only help hold the posture, but also ensure practitioners are avoiding injuries and maximizing benefits. Even a slight misalignment can lead to injuries or prolonged pain. While many types of yoga focus on slow, mindful practice, making the necessary yoga adjustment is non-negotiable.
Yoga alignment involves understanding and learning techniques to make adjustments to get into a posture, to hold a posture and when coming out of an asana – all this while encouraging students to listen to their body and do what feels right.
How to make yoga adjustments that feel right?
So how do you make adjustments to your alignment that is not a one-size fits all? Whether it is hands-on or hands-off adjustments, the idea is to offer variations and modifications, encourage the use of props and gently nudge students to go just a bit further while keeping their awareness of the targeted region. If a variation is offering the same benefits as the actual posture, then explain this to your students so they know it’s perfectly okay to do the modified or simpler version. The idea is for you, as a yoga teacher, to understand the techniques and concepts of adjustment so you can adapt or change course based on your student’s strength and flexibility. By developing yoga adjustment and alignment skills, you can take an individualized approach and you will know when to scale up or scale down a posture that will greatly contribute to a student’s progress.
Why are yoga adjustments and alignment necessary?
For progress: Adjustments and alignment in yoga help open up the body in new ways. They encourage flexibility and mobility while creating a strong and stable foundation for yoga asana practice. Adjustments offer practitioners of all levels a chance to experience postures (beginner, intermediate and advanced) while slowly and gradually building muscle memory, stretching and nourishing muscles and tissues, and improving the health of joints. Practitioners gain the tools to systematically progress and access any posture. Props can be used to enhance flexibility and as one progress, the dependency on props can be eliminated. For example, in the Standing Forward Bend, one may not be able to touch the floor. Now, rounding the back or bending the knees is the wrong alignment which won’t stretch the hamstrings or the back. So, instead, placing a block below the hands or dropping the hands as far down as possible but keeping the knees and back straight is a better option until the hamstring flexibility improves.
For safety: This is probably the most important reason adjustments and alignment is necessary. By providing modifications, props and adjustments, the risk of injuries is reduced. When practicing poses with a misalignment, a practitioner may not feel pain immediately. It might set in later or might be a result of accumulated wear and tear. Joints and connective tissue get pushed in ways that may not be suitable and this leads to repetitive ailments and prolonged pain. A misalignment might also cause harm to a targeted region rather than benefiting the system. Establishing the right alignment and using the necessary adjustments and props helps to progress safely and only to the capacity that one’s body allows.
For self-awareness: By adapting, adjusting and progressing, practitioners learn what their bodies are capable of. They learn to be more self-aware, attentive to sensations in the body and whether they are able to stretch just that little bit more. With practice, the ability to focus on specific body parts that are getting stretched improves. For example, if one is attempting the Cobra Pose, initially maybe the hands are bent at the elbows because spine flexibility is less. But by being aware of the sensations in the lower back and with practice, one can slowly straighten the hands as much as possible. If there is any point where a twinge or a prick is felt, one can bend the arms a little bit and try again.
Things to remember when it comes to yoga adjustments and alignment
- Asking for permission: Remember, as a yoga teacher you have to abide by certain values and ethics, and this includes asking students for permission. If you are making physical contact to help adjust a posture, ask a student if they are comfortable. Not everyone is going to be open to it, so ensure you get their consent. If students prefer hand-off guidance, then be open to simply guiding them with verbal cues.
- Check in: When nudging a student into the right alignment, keep checking in every step of the way. Ensure they are comfortable. Inform them to tell you to stop at any time. Tell them to keep their awareness of the targeted area and if they feel discomfort or a twinge of pain, they should ask you to stop. Encourage self-awareness so they listen to their bodies every step of the way.
- Be slow and gentle: Do not rush the adjustment. Patience is important here to ensure the student’s safety. Avoid startling the students. Approach the adjustment in a gentle way.
Harnessing the power of yoga adjustments and alignment
There are many of us who dread specific postures because of a lack of flexibility or the struggle to access a pose effortlessly. Take the Seated Forward Bend, for example, where so many students initially struggle to grab the toes or keep the back straight. Or with the Downward-facing Dog Pose where there is a tendency to round the back, bend the knees or the difficulty to place the heels on the mat. With appropriate adjustments and alignments, this fear can be taken away, confidence boosted and the posture achieved. The improved self-awareness allows one to gently nudge their own bodies into a pose without too much worry. Learning the art of using yoga adjustments and alignments can be greatly beneficial in establishing a body-mind connection, tapping into one’s intuition and establishing a stable foundation for yoga asana practice.