I started practicing yoga around fifteen years ago on the advice of my marriage counselor. He thought it could save my marriage by calming my stressed-out soul. So I joined a gym with yoga classes.
While yoga didn't save the marriage, my new practice was instrumental in easing my anxiety. Sure, the meds didn’t hurt, but I credit vigorous vinyasa for 90% of my emotional stability and growth.
There were wonderful aspects of yoga I enjoyed, (Look ma, I’m doing headstand!) but one thing in particular floated to the top of my wish list: adjustments. The idea of getting actual hands-on-help if you were not properly aligned in a pose sounded like the greatest thing since Marshmallow Fluff. It seemed so kind and giving. I would watch in awe as an instructor adjusted my neighbor’s leg during arda chandrasana and enviously witnessed a fellow yogi being folded deeper in parsvottanasana. I couldn’t wait to experience my first adjustment.
But as time passed I realized that something was amiss. I was almost never adjusted. Sure, once in a blue moon, when a two-headed sheep was born on a Thursday, I felt a two-second touch on my triceps. However, most of the time my instructors bypassed me as if I were invisible.
My first thought was that I was being paranoid, because honestly, I’m paranoid. So, I began to justify their actions. After all I was taking yoga at a gym not a studio. There were over 25 people in the class. How could the instructors adjust each person? This made sense. It was selfish and unfair of me to expect individual attention. But when this happened a number of times with just five people in the class, I started to feel rejected. Was there something wrong with me? Did the instructors find me so unappealing that just touching me gave them the heebie-jeebies? Sure I was no Channing Tatum, but I wasn’t the Elephant Man, either. (Although it did get me feeling so self-conscious about my appearance I ran out and bought a new nose-hair trimmer.) Did I smell bad? Was I overly sweaty? Or perhaps it was... my age. I was usually the oldest man in class.
Maybe these instructors were afraid that being over forty was infectious and one touch would turn their tight, youthful bodies into a mass of flaccid flesh and varicose veins overnight? Perhaps I reminded them of their step-fathers who never gave them the love they rightfully deserved. Truth was, I had no idea. I just sat on my mat and watched it happen, practice after practice.
Then I mentioned this to a friend who suggested that perhaps I never really needed adjustment. Obviously this sweet woman hadn’t witnessed the graceful styling of my Falling Tree Pose. Sadly, even after all these years, many of my asanas were still shaky at best. She then told me to “man up” and discuss my feelings with my instructors instead of getting angst-ridden and whining afterwards. I seriously gave it some thought. However, I realized that by mentioning my lack of adjustment, I might come across as accusatory, hurtful, or insulting. In the best case, the instructor would feel self-conscious around me during class, going out of the way to give me extra attention. The last thing I wanted was a “pity adjustment.”
Recently I stopped making the schlep to the gym and started practicing at Bread and Yoga, a traditional yoga studio in my neighborhood. It was different. Unlike the gym, it was run by people who honestly loved the practice of yoga and didn’t use it as a sales tool. Other differences became apparent almost immediately. During my first class I unexpectedly felt a hand on my shoulder, gently pressing and moving my arm. At first I had no clue what was happening, but then it slowly dawned on me. As class continued it happened again. And again right before savasana. I began to realize this wasn’t a fluke. I was indeed experiencing multiple adjustments. I just hope that each time it happened, my instructor could see the smile on my face, stretching from ear to ear and the silent call of thanks that came from deep within an older man’s heart.
--David Kaminsky is an advertising copywriter who has finally mastered tree pose, thanks to adjustments!