If you regularly attend group drop in classes, you will be familiar with the teacher asking if anyone has an injuries, which is generally met with a resounding "no". Whether it's an automatic reaction, embarrassment, privacy or maybe they just didn't really think it would be an issue, no one really likes to admit that have an injury or illness in front of a group of strangers. I generally keep this in mind whenever I teach a class, especially if it is a new class with a group of people that I will be teaching for the first time. I try to make time at the beginning of class to welcome anyone new, so they have some privacy and space to be able to talk about anything that might be niggling them in their bodies, but it's not always possible, especially when you have a tight turnover in the studio. Once students have been coming regularly to a class for a while, I find they feel more relaxed and open and will begin to share things openly with the rest of the class that can generally benefit everyone. With this in mind, this why I never do hands on adjustments with new students, unless, it looks like they may injure themselves.
I have recently had students who have complained of injuries due to a manual adjustment from a yoga teacher, pushing them deeper into a posture. In my humble opinion, this should never happen. This perpetuates the myth that yoga is about going as deep as you can in a posture, glorifying hyper-mobility and not paying attention to how different every single person's body is.
Verbal adjustments should always be the first step, getting your students to trust your voice, trust that they know their body and where they are in space. I regularly talk through the whole body, how things should feel, what should be engaged and where you certain parts of the body should be. If someone has come to their first ever yoga class, it can be really overwhelming and take some time for them to understand the volume of cues that you will deliver in a class, which is totally ok. As the weeks go on they will slowly improve within their practice. Giving students the space to develop and grow is so important.
If a student's alignment looks like it could potentially cause them an injury, and they haven't responded to the verbal cues for the whole group, then I'll go over to them directly and talk them through some specific adjustments, if they still aren't getting it, I may place a hand on the area of the body they need to move or adjust, just to direct them in to the posture, but always without force. On occasion, some students still wont get it, which is again totally ok. Anyone who has been practicing yoga for a long time, has all been there. One day you'll be practicing, and then suddenly, a cue a teacher told you 6 months ago will click, "ahh thats what they were talking about".
What can injure people and be incredibly dangerous is when a yoga teacher pushes people deeper into a posture, or pulls them into a posture. For example, paschimottanasana (seated forward bend), perhaps a yoga teacher will come up behind you, place their hands on your back and push you deeper into the pose, or, marichyasana, when your hands don't quite meet, pulling your arms so your hands do meet. These adjustments have the potential of causing an injury to the student, they can be too strong and too forceful, especially if you aren't aware of the students medical history. Once you know a student, there are absolutely safe ways of getting a student deeper into a pose, in paschimottanasana, fixing the part of body that is stable, the legs, and gently placing a hand on the back to encourage a deeper bend. In marichyasana, checking their alignment, getting the student to reach forward more when coming into the pose, don't forget the trusty strap!
As yoga teachers, part of our job is too ensure that our students feel safe within our classes. Yoga is so much more than the physical practice, it's about unity, connecting your mind and body, but when we are teaching a class, our students are using their bodies and we have a responsibility to ensure that our students are comfortable and safe and leave feeling amazing, not injured.