Book Review: Yoga Adjustments: Philosophy, Principles and Techniques, by Mark Stephens

As a Yoga Teacher Trainer, this is THE book I have been waiting for.  In the beginning of the book Mark writes “There is no end to how much we can learn and evolve as teachers. True to the maxim posited by the Greek philosopher Aristotle that ‘the more you know, the more you know you don’t know’. The further you go in your training, learning, and experience as a yoga teacher, the more you’ll realize that there’s an infinite universe of knowledge and wisdom to bring to the practice.”

yoga - what you learn on the way down Mark presents the concepts of abhyasa (persevering practice) and vairagya (non-attachment) and how they are ‘integrally interrelated elements of a safe, sustainable, and transformational yoga practice that allow us to progress from one place to another with steadiness and ease. Together they give us one of the most basic yogic principles: it’s not about how far you go, but how you go’. 

I have been leading the Yoga Teacher Training/Develop Your Practice (YTT/DYP) Programs for 9 years and a component of each training session includes Asana Exploration – where we examine Asana (posture) alignment, modifications and adjustments/assists. Though the YTT/DYP program is comprehensive when providing visual and verbal guidance for Asana Exploration, as well as handouts and information for the yoga adjusts/assists component of the program, I am excited that this book offers students a resource that is extremely thorough and one that they can reference over and over again. This book will be helpful not only during their training process, but also in their roles as yoga practitioner and yoga teacher.

I describe a Yoga adjustment as helping students toward correct alignment – changing their expression to obtain preferred alignment for optimal physical expression and physical safety.  This can also be from an energetic perspective – enhancing the experience of how the yoga adjustment feels in the body.  As teachers expand upon a Yoga Adjustment we are providing a Yoga Assist, which helps guide students into a deeper expression.  As Yoga Teachers it is important to be just as mindful with students who are flexible as you are with students who are not.  Flexible students are often seeking balance between strength and flexibility, so it’s not always helpful to ‘deepen’ a seemingly flexible posture.

A yoga assist can help a student to go beyond what they thought was possible, though it is important to be knowledgeable of your student’s practice and anticipate the outcome prior to considering any adjustment/assist. From the teacher’s perspective Yoga adjustments/assists are done with intention and awareness and an understanding of what will happen before actually moving into the student’s space.  And there is much to know before undertaking this responsibility.  Mark’s book provides yoga teachers with what they need to know about the philosophy, principles, techniques as well as exceptional descriptions and pictures of how to offer effective, safe, hands-on Yoga Adjustments.

The book is divided into three sections.  In the Foundation section, Mark outlines what yoga teachers need to know about the philosophy, principles and techniques of providing Yoga adjustments by breaking the section into 7 segments, including:

-          Teaching What You Know

-          Asking Permission to Touch

-          Having Clear Intention

-          Moving with the Breath

-          Honoring Safe Biomechanics

-          Teaching Essential Asana Elements

-          Supporting Stable Foundations

The second section is devoted to the demonstration and explanation of over 80 Yoga adjustments.  This section also includes modifications of the postures and page references to his other two books:  Yoga Sequencing and Teaching Yoga.  Rather than write more about this amazing section of the Yoga Adjustments book, I will just say – you will be very happy you purchased this book.  And I thank Mark for taking the time to make an excellence tool for yoga students and yoga teachers.

The third section is titled Evolution: Guiding Yoga in the 21st Century.  This section is short and meaningful.  I would suggest that Mark make this the topic of his next book!  (PS… After he wrote Yoga Sequencing and I received the email that the book was out, I emailed him and suggested his next book be on Yoga Adjustments and he wrote back:  ‘I’m wondering if you’re something of an intuitive if only because I’m mid-way through writing Hands On Yoga. If all goes as planned, look for it late next year (it takes about a year to get from completed manuscript to having the book on the shelves)’.  So, here we are almost with book in hand and I’m suggesting his next one – so, I wonder………..

mindfulnessIn closing, whether you are the giver or receiver of a Yoga Adjust – the connection is an expression of Mindfulness – Paying attention, on Purpose, to the Present moment, in a Particular way.  And when we do that with intention, intuition, confidence, the ability to ‘hold the space’ for the student, while grounding ourselves, and incorporating a strong, steady breath – it can be a pretty remarkable experience.  This book will help you understand this more and will compliment your hands-on experiences in yoga classes.

In 2015, the Yoga NH Community will be expanding again.  We will offer four 200-hour programs (Concord, Nashua, Portsmouth and expanding to Littleton) as well as the 500-hour program, which is based in Concord.  Yoga Adjustments, as well as Mark’s Yoga Sequencing book, will be required reading for all the Yoga NH programs because the knowledge gained from these books will contribute to safer adjustments and sequences, and a significant increase in your confidence as you begin teaching or take your teaching to the next level.

The book will be available in a few days. Yoga Students, Yoga Teachers, and Directors of Yoga Programs, I suggest you add Yoga Adjustments, as well as Mark’s other books, to your yoga library.  I can say with conviction that you will reference them often and they will become an integral part of your yoga education.

Namaste, ~Maureen

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