Hands-On Yoga Adjustments: Worth the Risk?
As yoga teachers, we understand the value of hands-on adjustments. A skilled adjustment can create an “aha” moment when the student experiences the change physically. A child’s pose adjustment at the end of class may help students reach a more relaxed state. There are a wide range of potential benefits of adjustments, including correcting alignment, avoiding strain, going deeper into a pose and supporting relaxation.
However, personal touch can be complex, depending on the student’s personal history and physical limitations. In light of “me too” experiences shared by the yoga community and sexual harassment litigation, it can be worrisome that a hands-on adjustment may make some students feel unsafe or could be perceived as inappropriate. Adjustments also present the risk of injury if not performed correctly or on a student with an injury or pre-existing condition that wasn’t taken into consideration.
So, how should yoga teachers approach hands-on adjustments? Should teachers stop performing them entirely? Or should they use them only when a student’s safety is at risk?
The answer for each teacher may vary, depending on their experience, comfort level giving adjustments, and their students. Below are some considerations about safely performing adjustments in classes.
- Ask for permission at the start of class and prior to giving an adjustment. At the start of the class, ask students who would like adjustments to raise their hand or “opt in” by flipping over a consent card or a yoga flip chip. By asking students to “opt in” versus “opt out”, those who aren’t comfortable with adjustments may not feel singled out. When approaching a student to give an adjustment, ask again if it’s okay to adjust them.
- Consider safety first. Prioritize adjustments when a student’s safety is at risk or their foundation is unstable. Never use forceful movements, but rather help guide their body in the appropriate direction. Use verbal cues throughout the adjustment and ask for their feedback.
- Observe body language and consider individual limitations and injuries. If a student says they are open to an adjustment but their body language or breathing suggests otherwise, use verbal cues and demonstrate the change instead. Ensure you are aware of any limitations or injuries the student has before adjusting them.
- Only perform adjustments you are confident giving. Review guidelines for adjustments from your teacher training, study them with a mentor, or take refresher courses. Gain more experience by practicing assists on friends, family members and other yoga teachers. Incorporate their feedback, and don’t begin incorporating adjustments into your classes until you are confident performing them.
- Check your liability insurance coverage. Choose a liability insurance policy that offers sexual harassment coverage and legal defense to help if claims are made against you. Always ensure your policy is renewed on time, so you don’t have a lapse in coverage
About the Author:
Debbie Fox-Lopez is a 500-hour certified yoga instructor. She discovered yoga in her early 20s as a way to unwind from a demanding corporate job and to cross-train for long-distance running. After experiencing the positive effects of yoga on her body and mind, she was determined to learn as much as she could about the practice and to share it with others. She completed her 200- and 300-hour yoga teacher trainings with YogaWorks in the San Francisco Bay Area and in NYC. She has taught in both corporate and studio settings and is inspired by helping others improve their quality of life through yoga. She loves spending time on and off the mat with her two young daughters, husband and dog.