Assisting, Adjusting and Acroyoga

The value of touch. Assists and adjustments are a wonderful contribution to the practice. The effect of touch can be healing and nurturing to your students, but your approach to adjustments must be compassionate. Yoga is not performance art. Yoga is a practice and adjustments are intended to encourage safety and freedom in each pose. Let students be in their practice. Don’t make assumptions about their experience. Check in with your intention before you adjust.

Don’t assume, for example, that a student who skips a lot of the standing postures doesn’t want to be adjusted during the seated part of the class. She may be injured or tired. She skipped one part of the practice but still wants to participate in another.

Compassion is a genuine wish for someone’s well-being. You are not trying to improve anything about a student’s practice. Your assists are always guided by kindness.

Don’t assume that a student who has never attempted urdhva danurasana (wheel) can’t do it – she might just need some encouragement. Either way, you are never correcting their pose; always maintain compassion for their personal practice. The following suggestions will help you decide when and where to adjust.

Verbal Adjustments

If you see a common misalignment in the class, start by saying a specific cue to the class. In the interest of providing compassionate care to the class, use the following adage:

Say to one what you say to the whole class

This means you are speaking specifically to one student, but the instruction is directed to the whole class. It is an intimate way to communicate with a group and effectively makes everyone feel included.

Before touching a student, say an alignment cue out loud. For example:

Virabhdrasana B (Warrior II)

Virabhdrasana B Cues:
“Gaze toward your front hand”
“Check that your feet are underneath your outstretched hand”
Uttanasana (forward fold):
“set your feet hip-width apart. Measure by putting one fist in between your feet.”
“tuck your chin into your chest.”
Setu Bandhasana
“measure the width of your hips. Are your feet the same width apart?”
“press equal weight into both feet.”

Speak each instruction to a specific student, but say it loudly enough that the whole class can hear. You are addressing a specific alignment cue that is relevant to at least one person in the room (and likely many!).

Avoid Empty Cues

By saying to one what you say to the whole class, you are avoiding the temptation of “empty cues.” Empty cues are when you have particular alignment suggestions that you just say whenever you cue a pose.

For example, in urdhva mukha svanasana, you always say
“press your toenails into the mat”
“align your shoulders over your wrists”
For example, in virabhdrasana A, you always say,
“turn your hip bones forward,”

These cues are useful, but if the whole class is already doing it or they’ve heard it dozens of times, it won’t resonate. It will just be unnecessary noise.

By speaking specific cues that make sense for at least one student in the class, you are acknowledging exactly what their practice is now, rather than using rote cues that aren’t relevant.

Physical Adjustments

Your confidence and skill in providing physical adjustments will evolve as you teach. Learn a few specific adjustments and then practice on friends before you adjust students.

If adjustments are something you want to include, work your way around the room in a methodical way and ensure all students get equal attention. If there are some students who you don’t feel comfortable adjusting, ask yourself why. Remember not to discriminate against adjusting based on gender, age, or fitness level. The only relationship between you and your students is teacher-student and your adjustments must reflect this. If you don’t feel comfortable adjusting, then don’t. Wait until you feel confident and can provide adjustments with compassion.

Twelve principles of assists:

  • Set the intention
  • It’s a moving body – not static. Be dynamic in your assist.
  • Cultivate trust and be patient
  • Use demonstration
  • Magic touch – breathe together
  • Start from the ground up
  • Establish a seat – hand, feet, etc.
  • Find space and move into it
  • Assist energy flow
  • Apply isotonic and isometric strengthening
  • Adjust both sides of a pose
  • Remind the student to breathe and move deeper into the pose

The partner practice of acroyoga exemplifies the nurturing quality of touch. Adjustments in yoga poses are nurturing because of the human touch and the compassion that is created between two people. Acroyoga supplements this concept by creating a partnership between two equals.

Base and flyer are equal parts student and teacher and the poses are mutually beneficial while encompassing yoga’s qualities – loving kindness, alignment in asana, compassion, awareness of breath and the sensation of being completely present.

Base and Flyer

croyoga is a partnership between base and the flyer. The base works to create a strong and stable platform to support the flyer who moves through a variety of dynamic poses. Both roles are equally important but remarkably different. The base must be grounded and have excellent alignment (“bone-stacked”), while the flyer needs to have confidence, balance and core strength.

The beauty of the practice is the focused concentration that is required of both base and flyer. There is no opportunity for hair-fixing, mind-wandering or grip-adjusting. As soon as the base creates the support and the flyer accepts that stability, there is no room for distraction. In the pose, in that moment of support and trust, there is nothing else happening for either party. Being fully present, fully concentrated on the pose is an opportunity to cultivate clarity and mindfulness.

Acroyoga is a bit of a deviation from more traditional styles of yoga because it can be a performance. It looks impressive to observers but that doesn’t take away from its core value – the cultivation of a moment-to-moment awareness of now.

The practice of acro, whether private or as performance, is beautiful because it’s very obviously about a connection with another person. Yoga constantly emphasizes that we are all connected in this world – acroyoga actually embodies that concept! The practice emphasizes compassion for another person, connection and a genuine wish for someone’s wellbeing. You really don’t want your base to get hurt while she’s flying you and you really don’t want to drop your flyer when you’re the base! 

Attributes of AcroYoga

Communication: Know yourself, support others, embrace community. Acroyoga is an extension of your personal practice. You must have a strong yoga practice and understand the yamas and the niyamas before attempting to fly or be flown.

Don’t do harm to yourself or your partner.

Do listen honestly and support yourself and your partner. 

The foundation of the practice is communication through verbal exchange, observation of facial expression and breath and tactile experience (squeezing each other’s hands, for example).

Ease and Alignment: If it feels good and supported, it is right.

Practicing acroyoga can be extremely demanding but a strong foundation is predicated on feeling at ease in each posture. By observing alignment in your own body and your partner’s body, you create a stable and confident platform to advance your practice. You must feel supported and at ease in each posture.

There are multiple avenues to pursue acroyoga. Look up teacher trainings online, get together with friends or attend retreats. The practice is a rich and inspiring way to enhance your yoga practice. 

By taigapaws

Land and Heart Yoga is an online yoga studio. Book retreats, yoga teacher trainings, meditation and asana classes with Kate. Wild yoga. For wherever you are.