Wild Yoga Adjustments

There has been an ongoing discussion regarding teacher-student adjustments; specifically, when to and how to do it.  I’ve personally seen this topic off and on for 40+ years – here in the West – yet never seen a decent answer.

Get ready for one.

Adjusting in India is different; something I attribute to knowing innately what Yoga is.  Here in the States Yoga is more often than not used to describe a physical practice, so adjustments are just that.

Loads of debate – some would say ‘schools’ – on foot position in standing asanas, yet little on hands.  Unless you consider the Western ‘school’ of thought that contends the wrist must be “aligned with the elbow or the energy will not flow”.

To which I say:

In my experience most of the Yoga adjustments in Western classes are the personal revelations of the instructor; which has mostly meant their own Yoga learned without sound foundation.

Remember, Yoga means union of the body and mind, so each of us, in doing Yoga, seeks to find that union.  But it’s our own union, our own Yoga – which doesn’t make it right for every other bodymind in the class, because each of them is experiencing a different Yoga.

This is not to say that every adjustment the instructor offers is incorrect, because they may either be passing on information that is non-injurious; or, they may not be an instructor at all, but a guru, a weighty one, denoting great knowledge or skill.  Or, they may be an acharya, a highly respected teacher who practices what they preach.

Wow!  How to tell the difference!

A man who is sincere and

makes philosophy his life’s endeavor,

will emanate that sincerity.

A man who thinks it and

lives it will touch the intuition of others.

-Richard Rose

“Touch the Intuition of Others”.

That’s Yoga.

The majority of Yoga teachers today are not teachers at all, but instructors.  They are Yoga Personal Trainers.  These individuals may have started as Yoga students or fitness enthusiasts, then segwayed into a weekend or 200 hour Yoga class so now instruct / train others in what they learned.

In popular Yoga magazines there are regular articles on how to find a Yoga teacher.  These always mention asking the instructor a few questions, such as, ‘What is your lineage?’, and ‘Do you have a personal practice?’  An even better question is, ‘How long have you had a personal practice and who is your guru?’

You see, the typical Western Yoga class consists of an instructor leading a group of people who may or may not have a personal practice outside of coming to the Yoga studio once or twice a week.  Therefore, the typical Western Yoga instructor is just a tad more versed than the student.  In fact, I have students who I would stand next to any such example of an instructor, and hands down – physically, emotionally and intellectually – my students would win.

Therein lays the difference between an instructor, a guru and an acharya, equally the difference between their students.

Now, consider the typical Western Yoga instructor who offers a teacher training class.  What they are doing is passing on instructor knowledge .. nothing more.  Perhaps that knowledge lands on motivated soil/soul, and that individual goes on to explore a deeply personal and truly Hatha Yoga practice .. but those examples are far too few in our Western society.

So what does all this have todo with Yoga adjustments?

Let’s say that I am in my Shala, on my tapas doing Ujjayi when I breathe into an asana.  There is a soft popping sound in my spine and a layer of awareness is revealed; it relates: ‘Soften the throat’, and it responds, and the asana deepens.  I breathe again and it relates, ‘Loosen the hip’, and it responds, and the asana becomes fixed.  I breathe again and it relates, ‘Uddiyana’, and it responds.  Then, nothing is related for there is nothing to relate anything to, and in that eternal moment I AM.

Not something the typical instructor can teach; but something easily related by a guru.  You see, gurus are expellers of darkness, so they guide others in identifying the dross on the path before them, then guide them in how to effectively push that aside so they may walk that path alone.

Tie two birds together.

Even though they have four wings,

they cannot fly.

-The Blind Man

I’ve been in Yoga classes where the instructor came over and told me I was “breathing too loud”.  When I quietly respond that I was doing Ujjayi they tell me I should relax my throat.  If I even begin to relate that my throat is not constricted – but fully open and soft – then the explanation interferes with my Yoga.  So I don’t bother.

I’ve been in Yoga classes where the instructor came over and told me my legs were too wide in a standing pose.  When I quietly responded that I was menstruating so incorporating Matrickayog they give me a quizzical look then say, “But it’s not right”.  I’m too engaged in my Yoga to explain who the Matrikas are let alone what their Yoga may be.  So I don’t bother.

I’ve been in Yoga classes (literally, every Western one) where the instructor explains that Hatha means sun and moon.  That ha is Sanskrit for sun, and tha is Sanskrit for moon.  I simply inhale deeply and exhale completely at this nonsense, for these are not words but bija mantras; and their meaning and explanation is poetry and profound insight, so far too long for this blog entry.

I’ve been in Yoga classes where the instructor is teaching the Yamas yet is unable to explain their most fundamental points, and then stress to the class that Yoga is “not a religion”.  In quiet observation I watch the instructor stumble, for they know only topical information.  They do not know that Patanjali introduced the Yamas and Niyamas after being heavily influenced by Buddhist thought, and so the moral codes and self-restraints are religious.  Having paid to attend the class, it is not my place to explain how, without an established physical discipline and self-control, that this approach leads to mental instability; let alone how this has contributed to the deficient understanding of Yoga in America today.

You see, long before the Yamas and Niyamas one must prepare their self physically.  The foundation must be in place before the roof.  When physical discipline is not established in the personality the observances and restraints create conflict rather than peace of mind.

The ancient Yogis warned of this, yet few today know this because it is not a Yoga they have touched.

This is a true Yoga adjustment.

What must be taught first is Hatha, the frictive force, and this means the body must be purified.  The whole body – the stomach and intestines, the nervous and endocrine systems, the heart and brain – must be taught.

The foundation must be in place before the roof.

Before arjava there must be neti.  Before dhriti there must be nauli.  Before satya there must be trataka.  Before brahmacharya there must be kapalbhati.  Before mitahara there must be dhauti.  Before ahimsa there must be basti.  Before any observation, before any restraint, there must be the completed action .. the Kriya.

In fact, a true, traditional Hatha Yoga class must begin with Kriyas.  If your Yoga class does not, ask your teacher why.  If you are teaching Yoga and do not know all the Sanskrit words intimately wed to Hatha Yoga – the foundational concepts and practices (or only know a few of them) – then you should not be teaching.  And if you don’t like how that sounds, then honestly ask yourself, “If I don’t know these things – the most fundamental, the most elemental of Yoga thought and practice – then what am I teaching?”

How is that for a Yoga adjustment?

Namaste and Peace Out!



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yoga Girl
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 11:55:24

    Thank you dear Yogini for this eye-opening, poignant , and humbling entry.
    Om Mani Padme Hum.


  2. s.
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 22:04:28

    I consider myself approprately adjusted…..AAAHHHH!


  3. Trackback: DVDs and Real Yoga « Wild Yoga Live Vegan

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