The Art Of The Adjustment


It’s a good day at Jivamukti when Sharon and David are in town. And on this (particularly) Good Friday, they had something special to share: their new book, Yoga Assists. Yogis gathered in the asana room that day were going to get the opportunity to workshop this crucial aspect of teaching with the authors.

It’s a good day at Jivamukti when Sharon and David are in town. And on this (particularly) Good Friday, they had something special to share: their new book, Yoga Assists. Yogis gathered in the asana room that day were going to get the opportunity to workshop this crucial aspect of teaching with the authors.

After arriving, Sharon and David began a sort of synchronized bowing of namaste to each part of the huge crowd, a handful at a time. “No, you can’t go back the other way!” quipped David when Sharon began to deviate from the left-to-right pattern. “You know how hard this is to sync up? We’re really counting heads, so I can check on the tally, make sure they’re not cheating us!” We laughed and bowed in return.

Heads duly counted, Sharon greeted us formally. “It is a great honor to be with you,” she beamed. I joined the others for what was, even for a “seasoned” yogi like this guy, a truly powerful round of Oms.

We sat for a meditation, and then warmed up with a mini-asana session, preparing to help others by getting centered in our own bodies. Sharon further readied us with a speech on how to approach our work today.

“For many individuals in the world today, their god is wrathful, fearful,” she said. “And if you mess up you feel like you’re going to get punished. But Gopola (Krishna as a little boy) is a god that needs to be taken care of. What a concept, to relate to god in that way! He’s not one to be afraid of—he’s to be played with, fed, given toys…helped! When we can relate to god like that, then our inhibitions and fear of authority diminish; our fear of not being good enough falls away in the radiance of this greater wisdom, which is a simple and sincere love as for a child. This is how we should assist each other in our yoga practice. See the person you’re assisting as Gopala.”

“You have to understand the purpose behind asana to practice it in the most joyful and efficient way to get to yoga….and you have to understand it if you’re assisting others, helping them purify their karmas so that yoga can be revealed.” We were silent and still, taking in the profundity of it all.

Sharon explained that to approach a student looking to find fault is the other, fearful path, that of the “wrathful authority figure.”

“That type of a relationship between teacher and student will not bear any sweet fruit, it will only encourage fear,” said Sharon. “We have enough fear inside already! Why should our yoga practice contribute to that? It should be about releasing that fear and filling the heart with joy and compassion. And whatever you give, you’ll get back. How we treat others will determine how others treat us.”

Settling down in easy poses on our mats, Sharon and David then took us on a mini-tour through the book. There was some laughter when David took two wooden poles and placed them at his back, one vertical and one horizontal. Despite the date, this was not the beginning of a Passion Play, but a method to demonstrate the path to good alignment.

“The vertical line represents the principal of ‘down into the earth’ movement, and upward, ‘heavenly’ movement,” he explained. “When they’re equalized, the area of the navel becomes the area of weightlessness.” The other pole represents the other major movement, the horizontal. “Every movement you do with the human body is some manifestation of those two. When you look at the solid lines in the book, they represent this ideal. It’s there, and our aspiration is how close we can come. The dotted lines represent either potential or possible misalignment, and the red arrows indicate the direction of the assist—moving the individual towards the ideal.”

After this tutorial, we got together with another attendee to take turns playing teacher and student. I bowed to my partner square dance style, and we began. The first pose was, as always, the basis of all to follow: tadasana. I stood stone statue as my partner made gentle adjustments, the book nearby opened to the relevant passage. (Should I help by slouching? I wondered. Nah.)

“Right away go to their feet, the base of the pose,” said David. “Move them parallel with your hands. Lift and separate the toes. Align knees and ankles. Move kneecaps and quads with a lifting touch. Press the sacrum inward and slightly downward, and the abdomen inward and slightly upward simultaneously.” And we continued in this fashion. My partner guided my heart open in trikonasana; In paschimottanasa I guided her to fold with my knees placed lightly either side of her spine.

We made a circle in the center of the room as David commenced an Asana Lab. Eager volunteers were plucked from their mats and brought center stage to try out postures so David could demonstrate adjustments and modifications, such as the use of a chair in halasana. “Do you know how much it usually costs to have TWO yoga teachers adjusting you?” said David to riotous laughter.

As the laughter quieted down, Sharon explained that asanas are a preliminary practice that leads to more spiritual practices. “When we practice and assist standing asanas, they are connected to the muladhara chakra—your relationship to the earth, your parents, home, job. All those unresolved karmas, you bring to triangle or warrior one. Seated asanas connect to the second chakra—past romances, creative partners. Twisting asanas are the third chakra, about others who we have hurt us that haunt us. Backbends—the heart chakra, and our issues with people who may have hurt us. The throat center—shoulder stand, plow, fish…your relationship with yourself. The ajna chakra—child’s pose, bowing forward…your relationship with your teachers. The crown chakra—your relationship to god, the divine…sirsasana, hand stand. By opening up the channels, you heal your relationships.

“You have to understand the purpose behind asana to practice it in the most joyful and efficient way to get to yoga….and you have to understand it if you’re assisting others, helping them purify their karmas so that yoga can be revealed.” We were silent and still, taking in the profundity of it all.

“Is that interesting?” asked Sharon.

“It’s in the book!” cracked David.

And that book is available for purchase by clicking here.

--Jim Catapano

#yogaweekly #jivamuktiyoga #adjustments

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