(photo credit to Ashtanga Yoga Vienna, primary series workshop in Vienna 2015)
Once Upon a Time in the East, if you were lucky, you got adjusted. And I mean ADJUSTED. During my 5 month stay at Pattabhi Jois’s old Shala, I was adjusted at least three times each morning, and always in the drop back to Urdhva Dhanurasana. Some mornings I hoped I’d get away with a gentle version, but Guruji always appeared like magic, waiting to adjust me, and I never escaped. Within 2 months my hands no longer touched the floor but were taken in turn and pulled towards my ankles. Each morning my hands were taken higher, until after 3 months I was in full-blown Tiriang Mukhottanasana with my hands near my knees. The adjustment was strong; sometimes it took my breath away, but always lead to a sense of euphoria. Towards the end of my stay, Guruji gave me a particularly determined adjustment in this asana, and suddenly I felt a sensation of my entire body opening, expanding and letting go. I have never forgotten that sensation and how it was achieved. And it was achieved by consistent, strong, and highly experienced adjustments.
Looking back, I realise how fortunate I was. Before visiting Mysore I had spent time with one of the great Ashtanga teachers, Derek Ireland. Derek did not hold back in his adjusting. They were powerful: Derek once described doing adjusting like a workout. What he had in common with Guruji was that his adjustments, although strong, were like a gentle giant’s. They were born of experience and an understanding of the benefits.
Over the years I have been teaching and running teacher training courses, adjusting has become an important part of what I do. I have incorporated what I learnt from Guruji, Derek and many other fine traditional teachers, with years of giving and teaching Traditional Thai Massage. I like to think that my adjustments continue to reflect the essence of what I was taught.
Recently, after teaching some short adjusting workshops at the Yoga Show in London, I was approached time and time again by teachers asking where they could learn the sort of adjusting I had been teaching. None of them had experienced such ‘strong’ adjusting before, and all loved them. In many training courses and workshops I routinely adjust students into asanas and later they tell me they have never been adjusted into the asana before, and are amazed they can achieve what they had assumed to be a never to be attained posture.
What’s going on? Why are students being deprived of good adjustments? And why are teachers preventing their students from progressing? I gained some insight during a training course I was teaching in Holland. I discovered the studio had been using an adjusting book on its previous trainings. I too used the book, not to show how to adjust, but how not to adjust. The book reflected what seems to be a growing distaste for ‘real’ physical adjustments, now replaced by what I would call ‘symbolic adjustments’. Now, I am all for using the whole range of adjusting including verbal and light touch. I would describe light touch as more guidance than adjusting, and it does have its advantages in some situations. But to replace a good strong adjustment with a namby-pamby, insipid, half-hearted, touchy-feely sort of effort is an insult. It is an insult to the receiver, and to the tradition of adjusting. And the main reason I can see for this trend is that its supporters have never personally felt what real adjusting is like, nor have they learnt adjusting from anyone who has. It’s a case of the blind leading the blind.
Adjusting is an art; it takes many years to learn to adjust effectively and skilfully. This teaches us patience and determination. There is no short cut to adjusting, which is what the ‘new generation’ of adjusters foolishly believe.