Among our many students, the Atma Center is often visited by yoga teachers-in-training from other programs. These yoga enthusiasts are often surprised by just how different our teaching style is from what they have experienced at other studios.
Recently, one such student asked me an important question. She wondered what we do to keep students safe in their asana practice, as she was under the impression that we don’t emphasize alignment issues and noticed that we do not touch our students to get their bodies into alignment.
I offered the following feedback: student safety is a huge issue and of utmost importance in Satyananda yoga. We manage that in several ways.
First, we start students with the very basics: joint mobilization practices and core strengthening work so their bodies can handle classic asana with fewer risks. We fine-tune these practices over time, giving verbal cues about proper alignment –woven so naturally into the teaching they might not seem emphasized. We use exploratory, awareness-raising wording like, “check that you are…” or “notice the position of your [body part]”. If we ever see a student doing something out of alignment – like locking the knees, or throwing their head back, we start with a verbal cue to the entire class and then, if still necessary, approach the student individually.
Next, we offer modifications where appropriate. Many of the poses – even shavasana - can aggravate a stressed body part such as the wrists, the knees, the low back or the neck. Therefore, teachers will suggest different ways of practicing postures so that students can find the best variation allowing them to stick to our motto, “No Pain, No Pain.”
Most importantly, is our emphasis on awareness and honoring limitations. When students begin to listen deeply to their bodies and truly honor their limitations, they find the correct alignment and know how to stay within that safe, no-pain zone.
As students gain more experience and progress through the levels of practice, there is more of a conversation about alignment – in the form of exploration. Our students have established an awareness of their bodies and what feels right. Further, we acknowledge that everybody’s body is a little different. Bones are of different lengths/proportions from one person to another and the angles of our joints vary. So, a proper alignment for one body is not necessarily proper for another body.
After our exchange, the student who posed the question replied, “The instruction is so soothing and subtle that I don't even realize how well I am being guided!” She followed with, “I am grateful for the lack of personal adjusting because I don't extend into poses the same way and when teachers have tried to assist, it would usually leave me very frustrated that I can't go as ‘deep’ as they might be adjusting.”
Even though this individual is not going to be a Satyananda Yoga teacher (yet?), I am comforted to know that she is inspired by our style of teaching and hopes to approach her students with the same gentleness and care as we do. I am also grateful for her excellent question and to be able to share some of the reasons behind our teaching style.
Next time you come to a yoga class at the Atma Center, I invite you to listen for the cues about alignment and notice how we guide you to be safe and comfortable in every practice.
Om Tat Sat,