In the late 90s I received a “deep” adjustment in Marichiasana D where my hands wouldn’t clasp and the knee of the leg that was in lotus didn’t touch the floor. That is until the guru stepped on my knee and pulled my hands together behind my back.
With the weight of his body on my knee that was in lotus, it easily touched the floor and, with effort, my hands finally clasped behind my back in this elusive twisting pose. I was elated… for a few fleeting moments. As it turns out, having somebody step on one’s knee in lotus and then twist the hips and spine in the opposite direction generates a lot of torsion in the knee. As a result I damaged my LCL on my left knee and couldn’t walk for three months!
I was young and trusting back then and learned my lesson the hard way. I never thought I would be able to do any poses that involve any sort of knee-flexion again; no pigeon poses and definitely no more lotus pose in my lifetime.
I embarked on the long road to rehab and I am happy to say that over the years, I have healed my knee by using intelligent alignment and a lot of patience.
You may think that after this injury that I would be the biggest naysayer for yoga adjustments, but I’m not—I’m a big proponent of good adjustments, if they are from a qualified teacher I can trust.
However, with every passing year teachers and studios are opting not to adjust (or “enhance” or “assist”) students. Many studios don’t even allow adjustments anymore. There is fear of inappropriate touch issues and/or the need to respect any trauma-sensitive students (massive topic we can’t address in this article but is definitely worth exploring). The bottom line is, it’s just safer not to touch.
In this litigious culture we live in, who wants to take a chance with having a student claim that your adjustment hurt their back or shoulder? Nobody wants to be sued. The pace of many yoga classes seems to be increasing as well so there is less time to focus on adjustments.
Lastly, good adjustments require that instructors have a lot of skill, practice and knowledge. At the end of the day, people seem to be enjoying yoga classes just fine without adjustments, so why rock the boat? If people in yoga classes don’t seem to be missing adjustments, why add them back in?
Adjustments can be the most healing and beautiful part of a yoga practice or they can be outright dangerous.
Unlike when I got injured in that adjustment two decades ago, I’m now educated about what is an unsafe and what is a beneficial adjustment. This means I can bail on the adjustment, requesting the adjustor to stop at any point if I feel it is not working for me.
And this brings up an interesting point. I am firm believer that a good adjustment involves the education and participation of the person being adjusted. In my books, the person receiving the adjustment should not just be a passive object to be manipulated but an active participant in the process.
That’s why I am big believer in “somatic self-adjustments” where students use their own hands on their own bodies to create the enhancement of their pose. I use this technique all the time and it’s proving to be empowering and effective for students. I believe that a good adjustment doesn’t just feel good, it educates.
It does require a bit of technical know-how for teachers to share this technique so I‘ve broken it down how I do it. These are tips for both adjusting others and “somatic self-adjustments,” which is something we dive deep into in our 200 and 300-hr Blissology trainings.
- Go slow and feel the sensations of the body.
An adjustment involves playing one’s edge. An edge is where the growth happens but also where damage can occur if the student is not aware of bodily feedback. In general, we want poses that do not cause sharp pains or do not allow for long, smooth breath. At all points in the process, students and teachers need to be in their bodies, feeling the sensations of the body and letting the wisdom of the body guide the pose. This will make it therapeutic, enjoyable and sustainable.
- Know the intention of the pose.
What the pose is meant to stretch? Is it supposed to stretch the hamstring or the hip flexor? Why are we doing the pose? This will help the students monitor the direction they are moving in without fumbling around in the dark.
- What joints need to be stabilized?
Generally speaking, there is a simple rule I use for this. Whatever joint the muscle I am stretching crosses will be the one to stabilize. For example, if I am stretching the pectoral muscle that crosses the shoulder joint therefore the shoulder joint should be stabilized. If I am stretching the hip-flexors that cross the hip joint, then it will be the hip joint that needs to stabilized while stretching.
- What bone is the anchor point and what bone moves to create the stretch?
A stretch is a mini “tug-of-war” between the origins and insertions of a muscle. It is important that students know what these are.
- What are the tendencies or “go-arounds?”
A “go around” is term we use in Blissology Yoga to explain the ways the body moves to avoid the precision of the stretch. In Warrior 2 for example, when the thigh bone moves away from the midline (adducts), the adductors stretch. However, instead of keeping the hip joint stabilized as per step 3 above, the untrained body tends to take the tension of the muscle by sticking the butt out. This is “going around” the alignment pattern and missing purpose of the stretch and the light but grounded feeling it creates.
Here is an example of these principles for adjustments and self-adjustments in Warrior 2.
Know, the intention of the pose is to primarily stretch the inner adductor chain of the right thigh and secondarily to stretch the adductor of the back left leg. Small “micro-movements” of the pelvis will really help refine the stretch.
1. From Standing pose step the left foot back so the feet are 4-5 feet apart.
2. Keep the front foot facing forward turn back foot in about 45 degrees.
3. With a very slight bend in the right leg, place the right hand on the inner thigh close to the knee and the left hand on the inner left thigh, palm down.
4. Keeping the pelvis upright (minimizing the tilt forward or to the side) start to bend the front knee.
5. As you bend the knee, keep pressing outwards with the hands on the thigh bones to create a stretch on the inner groins.
6. The tendency is for the front adductor muscles to tilt the pelvis forward so the butt sticks out slightly. To fix this, think about “scooping” the right sitting bone under the torso and lift the pubic bone toward the ribs using the lower abdominal muscles.
7. Breath into the stretch in the inner groins as they stretch.
Stage 2: Refining the pelvis: “stabilizing and scooping the right hip joint”
1. Keep pressing the right knee outwards using the right hand at the thigh (don’t forget to engage the side hip and quadricep muscles to move the thigh outwards.)
2. Now take the left hand behind the back for the right thigh, close to the hip joint.
3. When someone else adjusts us, they would have a ribcage or a thigh on the back of the hip joint, but we are going to create this same action with out left arm.
4. Catch the left forearm on the right gluteus maximum muscle. Press it down create an upward scooping action with the right sitting bone. Use the abdominals in the front to help lift the pubic bone upwards towards the lower ribcage. This should accentuate the stretch in the inner adductors.
Stage 3: Refining the pelvis: “rotating the pelvis left and elongating the outer hip from the front knee ”
1. And for the last step, wrap the fingertips of the left hand around the ASIS Bone of the left hip (the ASIS is the “pokey” part on the front left upper hip).
2. Without loosing the scooping action of the right sitting bone, pull the ASIS bone towards to left away from the anchor point of the front right knee. The idea is to rotate the pelvis left against the tug of the inner adductor.
3. Be sensitive to your feedback to make sure none of this is too much to relax into.
4. Lastly, remove your hands and let your arms float up shoulder height take 3 long, deep and soothing breaths.
You can learn more about these techniques in our Advanced Alignment and Adjustments 50-hour training!