Teaching Yoga: Hands-on Adjustments and Assists

By Samara Manges

yoga hands-on adjustments - assists - the yoga loft cabarete

During my 200 yoga teacher training, I was told “the safest assist is no assist.” This makes sense to me, especially teaching yoga in a place such as The Yoga Loft at the eXtreme Hotel. There is a constant flow of students coming and going, and even though it’s easy to feel a connection with students early on, developing a teacher/student relationship takes trust and time.

Yoga assists, or adjustments, are where a yoga teacher physically touches the student either to shift, adjust or enhance the posture. Common adjustments are pressing into the lower back during Downward Facing Dog, pressing on the lower and upper back in Child’s pose or giving a light massage/ shoulder press during Savasana.

Safety is of the utmost importance as a teacher and student of yoga. Physically touching students can trigger any trauma, physical or emotional, that the student has experienced. Without knowing your students you are much less likely to know their history, their pain or their fears that they might bring with them to their mat.

As a teacher the last thing I would want to do is trigger a painful memory or experience for a student. That is the opposite of what I view my job to be. Yoga can be a great tool for people that have experienced trauma but because we don’t often get direct one on one time with students, unless in a private session, we don’t always have time to ask the necessary questions. And let’s face it, even if we did have the time to ask every student, they might not feel comfortable sharing or discussing that information with us. As a teacher, the risk does not feel worth the reward.

As a student, however, I love when teachers assist or enhance my asanas. Any class where a teacher has properly assisted my postures always stands out in my mind. Not only does it feel incredible and truly helps you release deeper into a posture, it also demonstrates anatomical awareness on the part of the teacher. Hands-on adjustments can provide important feedback information about where the body is in space and how it relates to the posture.

Sometimes thinking about the breath, the bandhas all while getting into Warrior II is a lot, you may not even be aware your back arm is not horizontal. Having a teacher come over and move the arm into place brings the mental awareness to the physical sensation of the posture.

I believe what we can do as yoga teachers in this climate is to create a dialogue. At the beginning of class, I’ll briefly explain what an assist is and ask if students are interested or would like one. This provides information and allows students to have a voice in if they would like to be touched or not. I also try to incorporate self-assists as much as possible into my class. Bringing as many points of contact between your own body can sometimes be just as helpful as an assist. Some of these self-assists include:

  1. Placing your hands over the heart and abdomen to observe the breath.  
  2. Giving the legs an brief massage before or after seated forward folds.
  3. Pressing the thumbs into the soles of the feet during Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

If you are lucky enough to get to know your students and have an open dialogue with them, discuss the possibility of assists. Check in as you are assisting by asking them if they are alright, and if you can add more pressure. And as a student, don’t forget that you can always ask for assists if you know you enjoy them.