Last weekend, I was asked to assist at lululemon athletica’s annual Salutation Nation event. Assisting, or “adjusting” in yoga, is not only important for the student (as it helps them correct their posture, settle into their pose, or find their technique), it’s also beneficial for teachers in that it allows them to “connect” to their students. For someone brand new to yoga, however, being “adjusted” can feel uncomfortable, especially if he or she is not accustomed to being touched. Yet the majority of yoga students have no problem with it; in fact, it’s often one of the things that they most look forward to when they attend a class.
At this particular event, I was one of 20 yoga teachers adjusting students. As three teachers began leading 108 sun salutations, the rest of us started walking around the park, adjusting the 100+ students. Conscious of the fact that I’ve never felt particularly at ease adjusting students, I found it especially difficult to do on this day since students were instructed to hold each pose for only 4-5 seconds or so, giving us very little time to jump in and make corrections.
About an hour into the class, I approached a woman from behind while she was in upward facing dog and very gently pulled on her shoulders. She immediately flipped over on her mat, glared at me and said, “Don’t you dare touch me!”
I was in shock. I apologized and stepped away from her, dumbfounded that she had met my gentle gesture with such hostility. I then immediately began judging the woman.
‘What the hell is her problem?’
‘Doesn’t she see the other students getting adjusted?!‘
‘Why is she even here if she doesn’t want to get adjusted?’
‘Couldn’t she have said that in a nicer way?’
As I glanced back at the woman, I discovered that she had picked up her things and left the event. My heart sank. I was the reason she left. Fellow teachers comforted me and reminded me that my encounter with the woman had more to do with her than it did with me. I knew I didn’t need to take her lashing out personally but it still stung.
After taking a little time to digest the experience, I reflected on the fact that I had been a yoga adjuster on auto-pilot. My goal from the very beginning of the event was to adjust as many people as I could. I was there to do a job! Or at least look like I had a purpose. But I had failed to keep in mind two very important things: how to take care of myself and how to hold my space.
As yoga teachers, and as human beings, we have an obligation to ourselves to think about how each situation and scenario feels. If and when it feels uncomfortable for us, do we then “stick it out”? Ironically, the woman’s angry outburst (though misdirected at me) was just her way of taking care of herself. Perhaps she wanted to do yoga but didn’t want to be adjusted by so many people. Whatever it was, she did what she needed to do at that moment. And I needed that reminder to always feel the space I’m in, especially the energy of those around me, before setting myself on auto-pilot.