In this week's installment of the Yoga Living Project, cambio. Yoga teacher Shelby Palmeri shares what changed her mind about hands-on adjustments. Read about her journey below and if you have anything you'd like to share on the matter (or any other topic) email Austin at
The Power of Touch: How I Learned to Love Adjustments
I never thought I had an aversion to physical touching. I grew up comforted by my mom’s hand in mine and by my dad’s warm embrace. I poked and prodded my younger brother, had my head squeezed under his elbow and my ribs tickled until it hurt. I hold my boyfriend’s hand; brush his hair out of his eyes. I let him touch my face and my toes, never flinching away from his outstretched hand. I’m comfortable with touch, or so I believed.
As I started attending studio classes regularly, I began to form an opinion on the physical assists and adjustments offered up by my instructors. And honestly, most of the time that opinion involved wishing for teachers to stay the heck out of my space. I resisted adjustments that made me work harder and immediately began to wobble when a teacher tried to offer support in balancing postures. I rolled my eyes when the instructor stepped in during my flow. But time after time, I couldn’t bring myself to opt out of the adjustments, even though part of me was hoping the teacher never made it my way.
In the first few months of my 200-hour teacher training, the disdain for this aspect of the practice was taken even further. During our orientation, I realized that offering adjustments and assists would be something I’d have to learn myself. In fact, I was told an adjustment internship would be required- 15 weeks spending an entire hour of someone else’s class, adjusting all the students. Fine, I resolved, thinking, “I’ll do what I have to do to make it through training, but I already know I’ll just be the kind of teacher that doesn’t do any touching.”
I spent my first few modules nervous. I was extremely shy and hesitant when we had to include adjusting in our practicing of the sequence. The bodies of my fellow students seemed off limits. I timidly participated in as few hands on moments as I could get away with. I put off my internship as long as I could, but motivated to finish training, I could wait no longer. I picked one of my favorite teachers, but I still felt uncomfortable and unsure. I thought that maybe if she stayed busy enough teaching, she wouldn’t even notice how many students I actually got around to during our hour once a week.
On our first morning together, my anxiety regarding touching strangers was palpable. My loving teacher offered all sorts of great insight. However, one wise statement really stood out. She stated that sometimes, the touch we offer may be the only touch a student receives that day. My world was rocked. My perception shifted. Well of course that’s the case. Not everyone receives either intimate or even platonic touch on a daily basis. In fact, some people may have very few good associations with touch over the course of their entire lives.
The wheels were already turning, but being present in a class without actually participating in the sequence continued this eye opening experience. Week after week, I watched bodies move in unison. I saw bodies respond to touch, felt muscles relax beneath the palms of my hands. I saw people move into better alignment with the point of a finger. With each class, I grew more comfortable. With each class, I learned something new.
I began to see the significance of touch, and I began to really feel it. My mentor challenged me to step into someone’s space and flow with them, and to
notice what it felt like energetically. I began to sync my own breath with the students I was adjusting and began to understand the energetic directions achieved in various poses.
Now as a student, I find myself craving certain adjustments, hoping to hear the teacher approaching in my extended child’s pose or forward bend. As a teacher, unlike my prediction, I am not an instructor that doesn’t do any adjusting. In fact, I’ve learned to love it. I find that I’m almost always welcome in someone’s space. I find that touch is oh so easy and just so kind. There is nothing quite like seeing the soft smile on someone’s’ face as they receive a shoulder or neck rub during savasana.
Of course, there was a lot that I learned in teacher training. But this experience with adjustments really stands out to me. What we tend to resist, seems to be what we need to work with the most. The biggest challenge is just to start, to throw yourself in and let yourself be vulnerable and open. So step out of your comfort zone, sit with the awkward and the strange. See how it feels to offer someone a friendly hug or pat on the back. Notice your reaction when you are offered the same.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the author Jan Phillips: “Of all the gifts we can give to people, the gift of our touch is one of the most priceless. Through our hands we convey a kind of radiance. A warmth seeps out from our inner fire, a wrap for someone’s chill, a light for another’s dark.”
The light in you and the light in me, it is all the same. There are many ways to offer your light and warmth to those around you. Touch is a great place to start.