What Editing Yoga Adjustments Taught Me About the Power of Touch
Categories: Bodywork & Somatics
Yoga Adjustments: Philosophy, Principles, and Techniques, the third of Mark Stephens’s guides to teaching yoga, was the first that I had the pleasure of editing. Though I am not now and will never be a yoga teacher, I’m surprised by how much I, a perpetual beginner, learned while working on this book. Yoga Adjustments is about hands-on teaching. It deals with one of the most essential resources at a teacher’s disposal—the power of touch to awaken, instruct, and transform.
My own progress with yoga has been slow. I can be lazy, and if I didn’t enjoy the classes and my teachers so much, I probably would have quit a long time ago. But despite my tepid dedication, something keeps me coming back. This book gave me a few clues as to why. It underscored that fact that—because most of the work I do is mental—I often forget how much my body knows, what it can tell me, how it understands things more completely, in some cases, than my mind. Yoga reminds me of that, and touch—the tactile suggestion of someone looking from the outside in—can be a wake-up call, even a revelation.
Until my teacher patted my trapezius muscles with the palms of her hands, I didn’t realize that my shoulders usually ride up around my ears. Until she slid her fingers down either side of my spine, I didn’t know it was possible to pull my shoulder blades down the same way, and in the process to open up my chest. By placing his hand on the back of my neck, another teacher pointed out how I constantly lead with my chin, which crunches my cervical spine. By gently lifting the muscles of my lower back he showed me that when I thought I was sitting up straight, I was actually slumping. I learned that one side of my body does more than its share of the work while the other freeloads, that I habitually walk with my head tilted to the side, that when the going gets tough, I quit breathing.
Like most people, I’m constantly bombarded with words and images. This book brought home to me how, by bypassing the mind, touch can convey information more effectively than verbal instruction or visual demonstration. It can immediately indicate which muscles to engage, which joints to rotate, which areas to relax and expand. It can enliven parts of our bodies that we didn’t know were asleep, show us that we may not be using everything we have, or that we’re using it the wrong way. It can direct us toward our full potential and help us integrate disparate parts into a more aware whole.
Mark Stephens says, “The specific ways that some unique individuals’ embodied intelligence manifests in their being may make it practically impossible for them to independently find their way into and out of asanas in a way that is safe, sustainable, and effective, let alone into clearer awareness, often resulting in the reinforcement of postural and life habits that are self-limiting rather than wholesome and transformational.”
In other words, sometimes we need help. Yoga Adjustments—with 400 pages and more than 800 illustrations—provides concise instructions for over 100 asanas. It also offers a historical overview of thought on the body’s innate intelligence and an introduction to the great works of yoga philosophy. Teachers of yoga will find a wealth of information for guiding students with their hands, as well as a thorough analysis of the power of touch and the responsibilities involved in touching others. They will learn how to position themselves, be aware of their own intentions, ask permission, and avoid making assumptions about the people they’re adjusting. For those of us who aren’t teachers, Yoga Adjustments offers many insights into how we learn, what our bodies can teach us, and how we can move toward getting “in touch” with ourselves.Tags: Mark Stephens Yoga