I don’t feign supremacy or believe myself to be the ultimate source on all things fitness and yoga. I am far from that. I don’t believe it’s “my way or the highway.” There are certainly people out there with higher achievements than I teaching in fitness and yoga. I see it as my job to learn from those people and translate, in the best way I can, their wisdom and knowledge to you.
As a teacher, I correct people for two reasons. One: discomfort. Two: efficiency. In this blog I’m going to go into a little more detail about why a yoga teacher may adjust your form during a yoga class.
Reason #1: To guide you through discomfort
Let’s talk about the first one: discomfort. Listen, it’s natural. As human beings we would rather be comfortable than go through the unease of change. It is why we have “favorite” yoga poses or our “go-to” exercises in the gym. It’s because – more or less – they feel good. We can accomplish them, and though they may work our bodies, they don’t really challenge us.
Take for example a side lunge. So many folks do a side lunge with poor form. Let’s say you do your side lunge and your heel is off the floor so you can better touch the floor with your hands and your legs are externally rotated. You may feel a stretch and likely, it’s gratifying.
Related: How to Do a Side Lunge
But if I ask you to improve your form by keeping both your feet grounded and parallel with your weight in your heels and your back straight, you may not like me so much. You won’t get as close to the ground. You don’t get the gratification of looking like the girl in the magazine or the guy on the mat next to you. Along with some physical discomfort, there’s also the emotional distress of being the student who can’t “do the pose.” (To which I say hogwash.)
But without a willingness to be uncomfortable, you cheat yourself and deny the real possibility for understanding, growth, and change. When I correct your form, you may feel uncomfortable – but my goal (and your teacher’s goal) is to help you find more balance, both physically and mentally.
The time honored Eastern health tradition of Ayurveda (the sister science to yoga) tells us that when we are out of balance we crave actions, habits, foods, etc. that pull us further out of balance. It’s exactly why it’s easier to check out and mindlessly perform exercises or yoga postures. For example, if you tend toward anxiety (which is mostly a mental condition although it manifests physically as well), more intense cardio activity or a “power flow” yoga class usually feels pretty good in the moment. Some may argue that fast activity “gets the anxiety out.”
Related: 6 Yoga Poses To Relieve Anxiety
However, anxiety already drains your capacities. Adding fast paced activity or intense cardio will, in the long term, deplete and exhaust you. You’d be better off doing restorative yoga or something more “yin” to calm the nervous system. Although at first relaxing in this way may feel uncomfortable, eventually, if you’re a high-strung person, a good teacher will help you understand more grounding and calming forms of exercise and yoga will be more beneficial to your overall health.
The point is, what we want and what we need to be healthy, balanced, and strong individuals are often two very different things. When I insist on correct form, I’m simply doling out a healthy dose of tough love – giving you what you need instead of what you want so that eventually you become stronger and healthier, and achieve the goals you have set for yourself. I’m introducing change to habitual movement (and sometimes thought) patterns so that you become more resilient and adaptive.
Related: Yoga Stretch and Relax
If this all sounds unpleasant, Ayurveda also offers some good news. Once we move more toward balance, we then begin to crave the actions, food, and habits that keep us there instead of the polar opposite. Genius! It’s the very reason why once you begin exercising and eating right, the other stuff – poor eating habits, lethargy, inactivity – begins to feel not so good. There is a tipping point and once you cross it, you begin to be drawn more and more toward constructive and healthy habits. And, conversely, repel those that aren’t.
Reason #2: To help you be more efficient
Now let’s discuss number two: efficiency. At the end of the day, is doing the side lunge with your heel up wrong per se? No. But at best, it’s not really giving you the most bang for your buck, and at worst, it’s potentially dangerous. We already waste so much time these days on distractions from social media, the news, and every other alarm, buzz, ding and ping that our technologies set off. If we can only dedicate a half hour to exercise or yoga, don’t we deserve to give it all of our energy? And to get the most we possibly can from each pose?
Related: Yoga Pose Tutorial
To be efficient with our yoga practice doesn’t mean cutting corners; it means giving each movement our undivided attention so we can reap the rewards of doing it correctly. I want my students to do the best they can; I want them to be firing on all cylinders and not taking the same distracted approach to their yoga practice as they may to other parts of their day. So therefore, I offer up corrections to help them better feel the pose where they should.
Ultimately, the underlying reason for both of my arguments and form-stickler position comes down to one thing and one thing only: I care. Of course, I don’t want my students injuring themselves. Period. Good form equates to safety. But beyond that, I want my students to see the same level of success that I’ve experienced. I want them to get the most they possibly can from their practice. When it comes to the techniques and tools I teach, I don’t teach what I don’t know. And I don’t mean know as in I Googled that shit or read an article on it or got it from a textbook. I mean know as in I followed the prescription of someone else whose advice and wisdom I trust and learned for myself that Wow! That really works!
I’ve studied with the crème de la crème in the fields of physical therapy, fitness, yoga, meditation, and motivation and proven to myself that the techniques I’ve been taught are both effective and efficient. It hasn’t always been easy, and certainly not comfortable, but because of the guidance of so many other wise souls, my body and my life have drastically changed for the better. I only want the same for my students, and, ultimately, the world.
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Thank you for these great reminders ! I would also offer ( as an RYT myself) that physical assists or adjustments should only be offered following consent by the student. And as students, we should all be willing to deny consent to touch during a class if that is our desire.