To be able to adjust a person in a position, in an asana requires, first of all, the skill of observation. As my teacher, Diane Long, advises, you first have to be able to see and observe and then touch a person's body.
To be able to see, is cultivated with time and with experience. Yoga is all about being able to observe, to witness, to be aware, to understand without becoming judjemental.
So, first comes observation and awareness. And then the hands may follow.
Not all people learn the same way and not all people like to be touched. Through my years of teaching people yoga, I have had many experiences. Most positive and some of them not that positive but tremendously important for my training and growth as a student and instructor of yoga.
The first yama in the eightfold path of Patanjali is ahimsa. I remember with very vivid colours my encounter with David Williams, one of the pioneers of Ashtanga yoga in the West to be very clear and very strict about it. "Never harm another person in yoga. It is really bad karma" he said. I remember him saying how much he was injured and how this made him realize that there must be another way of helping someone to have the experience of an asana. So it is mandatory that we do not harm another person, even more so, when this person has come to us for guidance.
Have I been hurt in yoga? Yes, I have been hurt. The injury is mostly healed, the scar tissue is there of course, a reminder of the accident, that wasn't a deliberate one, but rather an over estimation of the teacher's ability to adjust my body in that specific time. The injury is not only in the physical level. When it happens, it affects all levels, the energetic, the emotional, the mental, the psychic.
I still recall the pain. Every step I made was painful, and even the everyday activities had become difficult. It is different when you accidentally hurt yourself, and when someone else hurts you. It is affecting your relationship with that person forever.
When I first met Diane Long, and was taught by her, I was amazed by her touch. There was something almost magical about it. What my mind couldn't grasp, my body was absorbing as if it were drops of rain on a dry land. Her touch is strong yet with no intention to hurt. It can also be soft like a mother's touch and it can guide you in a very sophisticated, sensitive and direct way.
I have studied with other teachers who were very efficient in adjustments, but this was something else. This was just for me. For my body, for my needs. It wasn't just an adjusting technique. It was so much more than that. And I could let go of my fear being hurt again.
When we touch one another we transmit information. We need to be in that state where we experience what we wish to teach people, our whole body is actually expressing that state of being. It is a possibility that what we have come to experience and understand something and not be able to teach it through an adjustment. I strongly feel that the adjustments are not only something we just learn to do. It is a matter of intuition, of having open antennas and see beyond what is only obvious.
Sometimes we don't need to use our hands to help someone, because many times the correct words can be very beneficial and guiding. That's why someone must not rely only on her/his hands. On the contrary. I think a yoga teacher has to be very efficient in verbal guidance, and always enrich his message with fresh information that comes from within. It can be helpful and easy in the beginning to study a manual, but yoga does not really come with manuals. Yoga has to do with the immediate experience of the practitioner and it must be taught this way. There are of course texts, ancient and contemporary, of Yoga Masters, that give us guidance and inspiration. All of these, though, instruct us to practice yoga and be aware of the immediate experience.
Borrowing the words of a few Yoga Masters, all of us are yoga sadhakas, practitioners of yoga, and this has to stay with us until the very end. I feel that even the term yoga teacher is not accurate, as there are very few Yoga Teachers in this world, that embody the qualities and principles of yoga, such as non-violence, contentment, integrity, true humility and a deep understanding of the human nature.
Nevertheless, even if we don't feel adequate sometimes, or feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of life, we still have a great responsibility towards the people that come in our class. It is a serious matter to handle someone's body and mind. It is a delicate issue. My suggestion is that we have to stand properly in this role, and be very alert with our own mind and behaviour before we even begin to ask anything from the students. If we can ask anything at all...