Once upon a time, before I became a professional yoga teacher, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing on the mat. None. I was a blundering teenager who had no concept of proper physical alignment or how doing a pose incorrectly could potentially damage my seemingly indestructible body.
I somehow survived this way for years. (I believe it’s called “being a resilient teenager.”) But once I decided to partake in a yoga teacher training program, everything changed. Day one of our physical practice will be seared in my memory forever. We had two teachers and roughly 10 assistants for a group of 39. We went through a vigorous practice, and the assistants were on me like white on rice—I couldn’t even hold downward facing dog without them adjusting the rotation of my arms, the width of my posture, or the angle of my pelvis.
It’s a miracle I survived the class with my sensitive disposition because I took each adjustment as a literal “You suck. You’re doing everything wrong. Why on earth are you in a teacher training program?” Of course, not everyone’s internal dialogue is as insecure, but it’s more common than not for newbies to take physical adjustments from the teacher as an insult. It’s easy to assume that you’re being adjusted because you’re wrong.
Truthfully, sometimes that is the case—but don’t take it the wrong way. We all start off doing poses wrong. It’s impossible to waltz into a classroom and nail every minute detail. It’s the teacher’s job to see the students who could potentially harm themselves and prevent that injury. These adjustments aren’t coming from an “I know better than you” place. A good teacher wants to see you grow and understand the postures at a deep level. Every time a teacher changes your alignment, know it’s coming from a place of concern, nurturing, and support.
Some adjustments are given as preventative medicine, while others are given as a way to deepen the practice, or enhance the posture through better alignment. There are plenty of postures you’ll think you’re doing correctly, but because of the nature of the poses, you can’t truly tell. A teacher’s hands-on assistance can illuminate these blind spots and get us back on track to feeling our best in the pose.
There are also certain poses that—even if you’re a practitioner who knows her alignments well and puts in the time and dedication to constantly improving your practice—you can’t go further in without the physical aid of another person. You’ll see assists like this given frequently in an Ashtanga class—a beautiful pose can soar to magnificent with a smart and beautifully executed assist.
Let’s also not overlook the fact that yoga adjustments can be a beautiful way to give love. Plain and simple. A beautiful savasana adjustment, a gentle push on someone’s lower back during child’s pose, or even an elongating push in downward facing dog creates a blissful state of yumminess.
All of this being said, you have the right to turn down physical adjustments. Perhaps you are a seasoned practitioner with an injury and you’d prefer not to be touched. Or you’re dealing with something on an emotional level that prevents you from wanting that physical contact. All you need to do is approach the teacher at the beginning of the class, tell him or her what’s going on, and politely request no adjustments. This is completely normal and respectable. Remember: At the end of the day, this is your practice—listen to your body and choose what works best for you.
More from Women’s Health:
How to Get Over Your Fear of Inversions
What You Should Actually Think About When Your Yoga Instructor Tells You to “Set Your Intention for Your Practice”
11 Surprising Perks of Practicing Yoga