Adjustment

I should, I suppose, let this topic go. And I will — I promise — after I share this one last story.

Somewhere on the order of two years ago, I was at a local studio, taking a class with someone who was not my regular teacher but who was (and still is, I presume) a yoga therapist in addition to standard “experienced” teacher training (something like 1000 total hours of teacher training) and who has been practicing yoga for something like two or four decades. My point is, basically — A lot of folks have suggested that inexperienced teachers are involved in a lot of yoga injuries. While I don’t dispute that as a general point, I don’t think this explanation was at play here.

Anyway, the class was in side angle pose. My right hand was on the floor with my fingers turned out to the side. It’s true, most of the formal instruction I’ve seen (that mentions hand position at all, that is) portray side angle with the fingers forward. But. My shoulders love them some external rotation, so rotating out from the shoulder — resulting in turned-out fingers — feels more open and spacious for my upper body. Additionally, I don’t place that much weight on my bottom hand anyway, so I’m not sure how much hand position actually matters for me in the pose.

Nonetheless, when the teacher noticed my hand, she gasped (yes, really) and came to adjust me in the pose.

“Not like that,” she said, softly enough that the rest of the class couldn’t hear. “You’re going to torque your wrist out of joint.”

Then she lifted my wrist and rotated it so that my fingers faced forward.

Now. I have no problem with instructor aids and adjustments in principle. I’d never have tried a lot of back bends without someone there to spot me first. And still, at the end of a long practice, there is nothing I like better than someone applying body weight to my wide angle forward fold. (No, that’s not kinky. It’s just awesome.) But some parts of my body take to adjusting better than others. The parts of this adjustment that made me uncomfortable:

  1. The instructor decided my alignment was wrong before she asked me what I was feeling in the pose. Additionally, she touched me before she had permission. And in fact, I would not have given permission for this adjustment, had I known it was going to happen.
  2. She moved a potentially weight-bearing part of the asana without letting me know what she was doing first. It wasn’t a big deal for me, but might have been a much bigger deal for someone who was placing more weight on that hand.
  3. She was worried about my wrist alignment, but she failed to notice that my wrist was initially aligned with my shoulder. Her adjustment moved my wrist out of alignment.
  4. She moved my arm from a place where I felt open and uncomfortable to a place where I felt restriction and pinching. In short, the adjustment did more harm than good for me.

It wasn’t actually a big deal for me, which is why I didn’t write about it before. I knew my body and my practice well enough to think, “This hurts. My way was better for me,” wait for the instructor to leave my sight line, and shift back to what I was doing before. Hence, that maladjustment was a momentary inconvenience rather than the building block of a bad asana habit.

I’m posting this for the very simple reason that I think not everyone knows it’s okay to second guess your yoga teacher. Not that I’m saying it’s good or polite or not-assy to call them out on someone else’s adjustment in class: that right and responsibility belongs to the someone else. But it is good to recognize that an instructor’s adjustment is supposed to work with you, and if it’s not doing that — if it’s working against you — it’s okay to either ask for different help (which admittedly, I did not do here) or to do what you know works for you.

Basically, this is nearly 700 words to say — You are the boss of your body, and you are the one who knows it best.

Parshvakonasana

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3 comments on “Adjustment
  1. Jane says:

    I think that’s a great message for all aspects of life, but particularly exercise and dieting.

  2. I am so glad you wrote this! I have definitely been in classes where I’ve been adjusted in ways that seemed counterproductive — almost exactly the kind of thing you describe here — but since I’m not terribly experienced and I want to trust my teachers, I haven’t questioned it. That was silly. I will now do a better job of combining their suggestions with my own listening to my body. Thank you!

    • Tori says:

      Depending on the class and the vibe you get from the individual teacher, it might also be worth speaking to them after class with respect to other alternatives that might work. I didn’t do that with the teacher here — because I got a fairly strong “I know one way” impression — but for the majority of teachers I’ve known, they’re more willing to think of and work through alternatives, even if they only perceived one way during the in-class adjustment.

      But of course, if you get an uncomfortable vibe from any given teacher, I think it’s totally fine to decide that a particular teacher is not a good fit. (Lord knows I have, lots of times.)

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