I feel it is incredibly important to be aware of the ‘power of touch’. You can give so much by doing an adjustment in an asana, but giving an adjustment without awareness or the right intention, can have a desastreus effect. Being a professional dancer and dance teacher for many years, taught me a lot about physical contact, body awareness and the ‘Art of Touch’ and I am happy to share my insights.
The Body’s Language
Through practicing contact improvisation dance, partner/acro yoga I became very aware of the different sensations and rhythms in the body, the weight of my body, of my partner. I learned to really feel the other, his/her skin, the shapes of the muscles and bones and soft tissues, the strong and the weak parts. All of this makes me realize that there is a beautiful way to communicate in a physical manner, without words. The body has his its own language and to discover that language, it is about letting go and feeling rather. It doesnt come overnight, t is a learning process…
I highly recommend any yoga teacher to explore his/her body more and engage in activities like dancing were respectful touch happens. In society, we rarely touch each other, a full touch with the full body only happen by accident, or if you are dancing a tango ! 😉 That’s the reasons why i would like to talk here about non-verbal & intimate dialogue, and invite you seeking for the quality in the contact ,the touch… having an open listening skin with open heart ♡
The power of touch is lodged in our brains and bodies early, and the (mostly) positive association we have with it doesn’t go away as we age, rather touch proves we are part of a group. Healthy touch is something humans needs. Our skin is the largest sensory receptor on the body and researchers have demonstrated the vital importance of touch and that a lack of physical contact could lead to emotional anorexia and death. Healthy touch is not objective, it is being received differently by different people depending on their emotional state, religious beliefs and personal history. Therefore in a yoga class, even basic adjustments can be healing or offensive, welcomed or repulsive, constructive or demoralizing.
As a result, touch can be a dilemma for yoga instructors. But, we have to remind that touch can be something more effective than verbal instructions, as it brings the person into his body, and it can also give more precise information. Most importantly to remind here is that the intimate quality of touch is both beneficial and potentially a risk, which is why we need to find the balanced way of touching and develop the right way of adjusting.
What is the purpose of touch in Yoga?
Touch is a positive force in teaching. Touch is a tool. It is a method of informing and guiding people, to help them. Through the touch, we can sense more clearly what we are doing and learn the actions that are important in a pose, in a concrete way. Touch can also be about protecting those who might be at risk of injury, or supporting them in difficult balancing pose. Touch can be important for emotional reasons as well, as a way to get to know people and to make a connection.
With hands-on adjustments, there are some risks as well: If they are forceful inaccurate or intrusive. What I choose to do is always based on what I see in the individual student in that moment. Adjustment is more about guiding rather than imposing, it is their posture, not yours. The emotional element of touch makes it powerful, as we don’t know the person whole history, or even necessarily how they are feeling that day. If you are not sure about whether hands-on adjustments would be appropriate, just ask first and also ask while giving the adjustment, so you can have some verbal feedback. By the way, i think people can benefit greatly from adjustments, experiencing a deeper expression of the posture, by receiving human connection, physically, psychologically and spiritually.
Always Adjust With the Intention to Help
When we come into a student’s space, we have to do it with respect and always with the intention to help .
People sometimes don’t grasp verbal instructions, but respond well to physical demonstrations, they are kinesthetic learners, we may touch them more. A few tips for giving manual adjustments:
Beware: over-touching is not a good way to teach neither, as we have to give to the students a chance to feel it by themselves and let it happen in the body ,not being dependent from the teacher.
Observing : important before doing the actual adjustment is observing the posture of somebody as that helps us understand whether the skeletal structure of this particular student will or will not allow him/her to go into some poses and will determine how far someone can go in a pose. This is essential to catch, as even if the person works very hard, he or she couldn’t perform some poses. While a hands-on adjustment may help someone to relax tense muscles, it can not change the structure of bones.
‘We need to balance the Yang of effort, with the Yin of calm acceptance of what is’, Paul Grilley says . He also says: ‘Adopting a “one-size-fits-all” adjustment strategy, or pushing students to achieve an aesthetic pleasing Tadasana, can be both physically and psychologically harmful. .. If you push students into an aggressive compression, you risk injuring them.’ ‘And if you imply they should be able to get their heels down or put their palms together in a reverse Namaste, it can be very frustrating for a student, who may think, what’s wrong with me?!’
That’s why we always have to be careful in our pedagogy, with the words we use, with the look we have, with the hands we use…
Keep developing sensitivity and receptivity. The hands need to be receptive and giving, i talk about “the hand who understands “, or the “sensitive hand “, to be able to feel how the person you are touching is responding, and adjusting your attitude, your intention.
Different kinds of adjustments
Don’t do any kind of chiropractic adjustment or apply any force to the body.
Just keep to the ‘3-Cs’ :
Confidence. Clarity. Compassion
- light touching, for example :
- Placing a hand on the crown of the student head and ask him to press into your hand (to lengthen the spine)
- Placing a hand on the abdomen to feel it expand on inhalation and contract on exhalation
- Pacing hands on the lower back in downward facing dog to feel the right alignment and place the pelvis.
—> The movement comes from the student body, not the teacher. It brings awareness to a body part and Suggest a movement, respecting the wisdom and the rhythm of the body.
*other ways :
– Touch is usually done with hands, although occasionally the feet are used , for example : to ground the outside foot of someone, or
– Putting the knee on the sacrum when they are in shoulder stand (to help alignment ).
Savasana is a beautiful asana to give some adjustments and light massage. A good amount of people can’t let go and relax in Savasana and by giving some assists they can release their hips, shoulders, neck, head… and finally fall into a relaxation restful state – maybe the first they’ve experienced in years!
It can be an open door to a real understanding of yoga, and a true opportunity to surrender, which people may not have in their life. It also gives you the opportunity to realize the power of your own personal connection and being able to share it as a gift.
Six Other Guidelines for the Proper Use of Touch, by Esther Myers
1.Be respectful. Respect the person’s body and its limitations, respect their individual differences, and respect their right to say “no.”
2.Don’t sneak up on someone. Approach a student so he or she can see you.
3.Check your intentions. Helpful touch invites students to blossom right where they are, rather than trying to change them in some way. Remember, it’s the student’s pose, not yours.
4.Practice brahmacharya (sexual restraint). Sexual feelings can arise in the student or the teacher or both. Ethical practice requires sexual restraint in relation to students. Some experienced teachers say they do not touch students from whom (or toward whom) any sexual energy is felt.
5.Watch your language. If you say you are “correcting” students, it implies that they are wrong. “Assisting” or “adjusting” is preferable.
6.Go beyond teaching poses to teaching people. Always consider the person you are touching, why you are touching, and what is happening beyond technique.
Touch is Magic
I guess that we are all here to connect. To their true selves, to others, to you as a teacher! In a yoga class, adjustments are probably one of the best ways to do that. Our well-being is related on our connection to others. Hands-on adjustment, when done correctly, can be very powerful to develop trust, and this is one of the power of yoga. The intention of an adjustment is always to serve the student highest good so we need to know what we are doing. We need a comprehensive understanding of alignment, anatomy, subtle body injuries as well as injury prevention.
Skillful touch can transform someon ‘s practice in a way that no verbal adjustment could. Thanks to the connection and the trust the student meets the opportunity to go beyond self-imposed boundaries and realize what they never thought was possible.
This happened to me when i was in Thailand, i was practicing yoga with a wonderful young lady called Johana Linhart, she was one of my teachers, at that time I didn’t want to practice headstand. She made me realise that the limit was in my mind, not in my body, and she gave me the trust and the magic touch i was needing. Since then I do sirsasana every day and it is one of my favourite posture. Thank you Johana ! 🙂
This is kind of magical.
YOGA IS MAGIC.
When we, as teachers, serve it right, Yoga always do its job.