Talking about Adjustments

My yoga practice has truly been a group effort. Every teacher, every class has been part of the process of building a practice. I have learned from adjustments from teachers, from assists from other students. Many profoundly changed my practice and my life and I remember them clearly.

Think about the physical adjustments you have received in yoga classes over the years. Which ones do you remember – which with positive feelings, which with negative – and why do you think you responded the way you did?

Last night I taught a workshop on adjustments for teachers and teachers-in-training. With gratitude to my teachers and fellow students, Here are a few of my notes:

WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION? (Remember, this is not about you.)

  • Protect the student
    • are they ready to go that far/deep?
    • are they open to being touched?
  • Provide stability (e.g. handstands)
  • Move energy
  • Fine tune alignment
  • Release misplaced tension
  • Let the student gain understanding of the pose, feel better, deepen experience
  • Give the student well-placed confidence (not misplaced)

At the opening of class, let your students know that they are not necessarily doing something wrong if you give them an adjustment. Give them the opportunity to ask not to be touched, then (of course) respect that and thank them for telling you.

As always, if it is for a correction, do a verbal adjustment first.

Approach quietly, but let them know you are there. You will often be behind them. Remember that it is their practice, not yours – you are supporting not fixing.

ALWAYS PROTECT YOURSELF– your back, your nose!!
When appropriate, use your whole body, not just your hands or feet.
BE CONCISE with your touch – do not linger, it gets creepy
KNOW YOUR STUDENT – check for injuries, maybe offer props
ALWAYS STABILIZE FIRST – at the foundation

DEON’S mantra (Deon De Wit is my Thai Yoga Therapy Teacher)

  1. TOUCH (pay attention to WHERE) and stabilize if necessary
  2. NEST – pause, breathe with them, take your time
  3. LEAN – apply the assist, giving them appropriate support, be it physical and/or a quick word of encouragement

It is their asana, breath and intention, not yours.

When you adjust, encourage (with your adjustment) students to move from the energetic core of the pose, rather than the extremities. Generally, the hands and feet will adjust themselves if they are moving from the focal point.

Check in with your students by looking at their eyes, sensing misplaced tension or lack of stability. Be aware of their center of gravity. Move with them, not against them. Remember, you are almost always helping to create spaciousness.

A mindful adjustment can change a student’s attitude and their practice. It can be the sweetest of gifts during a practice.

Kula – Community of Choice

In Yoga class, we talk about the Sanskrit term, Kula. It means an intentional community, a community of choice, a group coming together of its own free will. This past weekend I hosted a dinner party where a dozen of us said goodbye to a friend. She is moving back to her home state of Louisiana, where she is part of another kula. Over the course of the evening, we talked about the challenges of finding community in Los Angeles. And as difficult as it can be, I believe we are each capable of creating community. Over time, a hand extended in friendship turns into a multiple hands, a group of acquaintences, and eventually, a smaller group of friends. For this dinner party, I asked my friend to make up the guest list, and as I looked around the table, I saw the sweet uniqueness of our little kula. We may never all share a meal together again, but in the moment, we created an evening of meaningful conversation, laughter, good food and wine. Each of us gained for being in each other’s company.

Yoga is as much about community, who sits at your table, as how you practice on your mat. Every class, on some level, creates community. A gesture in yoga class, an encouraging word, or glance, brings someone into your circle, your kula. The yoga community in Los Angeles is one of those places we cultivate kula. We create shared experiences, support each other, encourage each other and find community in the process.

My friend may move away, but she will always be part of the kula I hold closest to my heart. May we all continue to invite people in, to create kula on and off our mats.

Nowruz – Persian New Year

Today is March 20th, my sister Lisa’s birthday. It is Nowruz, the start of the Persian New Year, and the first day of Spring. We tend to experience life on three levels, the personal, the communal and the universal. So I remember my sister on what would have been her 57th Birthday. With our Persian friends and neighbors, we celebrate Nowruz, and in half the world, spring arrives.

Nowruz “new day” is a Persian, pre-Islamic holiday rooted in the Zoroastrian faith. One prepares for the holiday with a traditional spring-cleaning. It is a time to gather with friends and family. In Persian homes symbolic dishes are placed on the haft-seen table. Haft is the Persian word for the number seven and seen for the letter “S.” The table is set with the seven S items which include Sumac (crushed spice of berries) to symbolize sunrise and the spice of life, Senjed (sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree) for love and affection, Serkeh (vinegar) for patience and age, Seeb (apples) for health and beauty, Sir (garlic) for good health, Samanu (wheat pudding) for fertility and the sweetness of life, andSabzeh (sprouted wheat grass) for rebirth and renewal of nature.

There are other symbolic items that go on the haft-seen table depending on family traditions. It is customary to place a mirror on the table to symbolize reflection on the past year, a bowl of goldfish for new life, colored eggs to represent fertility, coins for prosperity in the New Year, hyacinths to symbolize spring, and candles to radiate light and happiness. Each family places other significant items on the table, the holy book of Zoroastrianism, or a book of poetry by the poet Hafez. The celebration ends on the 13th day spent picnicking with family and friends in nature.

This ancient holiday encompasses so many traditions present in other religious and cultural holidays this time of year. Celebrating the beginning of Spring may be among the oldest seasonal holidays in human culture. So we each celebrate according to our traditions, but we all celebrate. In that spirit, I offer my version of Mastva Khiar, a most refreshing spring salad.

Disconnect From The Outcome

I interviewed for a position as a docent at LACMA yesterday. I have this vision that I’ll spend the next year studying Art History, learning to intelligently share my newfound knowledge with groups of school children, helping them feel at home in the museum, all the while, finding heartfelt inspiration in works of art that connect our love of of art to our practice of yoga.  We have done it together before, taken a theme from a painting or a sculpture, used that theme to deepen our practice, to find the common thread between art, life and the practice of yoga.

This time however, there is a position on the line. Will I get it?  Does it matter?  Yoga teaches us to to disconnect from the outcome.  In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna:

You have the right to work only, but not for the results of work. Do not let your motivation for action be influenced by reward, and do not become attached to inaction. 2:47
Perform work in this world Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is evenness of mind. 2:48

So if I don’t get the position, we will still strive to understand works of art. We’ll still look for the links between art and nature, and how those links inspire us.

In the meantime…. cross your fingers that a little bit of Sister Wendy will rub off on me.

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