In all yoga and wellbeing practices, the use of touch is a powerful tool.
As yoga teachers, it’s within our duty of care to provide a nourishing environment and safe space in every sense. Through the art of hands-on adjustments and assists, we enable a deeper experience of yoga asana, inviting a greater understanding of the posture, of the physical body, and of connection to Atman (soul or self).
Altering a pose should empower the student. The art of touch must be an act of awareness, rather than an extension of ego.
In any context, it’s paramount to know when and how to use touch safely, sensitively and strategically.
Never are we adjusting a pose for the sake of it, or to achieve perfection.
Whilst we move somebody into a deeper embodiment of asana – in twists, forward folds and backbends – it’s vital to know that there is a danger and potential for injury. Some bodies already have injuries.
Before acting on an adjust or assist, be aware. Ask ourselves: are we connected with safe knowledge and positive intention? Are we armed with the awareness of where we intend to take the body, and how we intend to do so?
To adjust and assist is to directly support the student, physically and energetically, with respect and compassion. Beyond this, there is a subtle distinction between an adjustment and an assist.
An adjustment relates to an anatomical or alignment-based alteration of the posture, to work with the biomechanics of the body.
An assist is intended to fine-tune or refine, the student’s subtle experience in the pose, to deepen the energetic expression of the asana.
Not everybody likes to be touched, especially during moments as deeply personal as a yoga practice. Touch can feel invasive to some, so it’s crucial to gain consent before approaching hands-on.
Ask the class at the start of the session for a signal if anyone would prefer to practice in their own space, without hands-on support. Alternatively, offer that anyone who prefers no physical adjustments to simply fold a corner of their mat as a sign to give them space. Don’t take it personally as a teacher – the choice is personal to the practitioner, and must always be honoured.
Always gauge the energy of the individual first, no matter what. Know where you’re going with their body, be mindful of the posture’s intention, and always be conscious of how you approach and depart from any physical contact.
As with all of life and all of yoga, direct experience is the best way to learn and embody safe practice.