I chuckled inwardly when one of the student teachers referred to our teacher giving ‘adjustments’ in class. He corrected this to ‘assists’ as a better word to describe what he offers! I guess the word says much about how you view the role of the teacher and how you approach āsana.
We talked a little about when as a teacher you’d assist and when maybe not. But the alarming reality of class teaching we were offered was that if you assist a few times and the student still doesn’t get it, my teacher advised to give up on them! I’m putting this a bit crudely, but I can — unfortunately — see the reality of it in a studio context.
And I’m surely not the only one who did an immediate self-evaluation of what assists we’ve received recently and whether we’ve been able to act on them sufficiently obviously that we might get a third or fourth chance with the teacher before we’re relegated to the scrap-heap of incorrigible yogis!
There are some assists that I understand at the time and can start to work on in my own practice; they feel inherently right when the teacher realigns me and I have an ‘aaahhhhh!’ feeling of good vibrations! I can then work to recreate this by myself. But there are others that entirely baffle me. Sometimes I don’t feel it from within or other times I can feel the ultimate place I arrive at but I’ve no idea how we got there. I’ve experienced both in the last week. I sometimes wish I could hit the pause button in class and have a conversation about what’s going on, exit the pose and then see if I can re-enter more skilfully based on my new understanding.
For now there’s less a sense of urgency than I used to feel. No more the feeling that each practice might be the last and if I can’t wring every last sensation from a pose I might never be there again. Now I know there will be new sensations, new depths, new experiences for as long as I practice yoga. Plenty of time for more assists and the creation of new muscle memories, I guess.
I suppose there’s probably a more or less skilful way of receiving an adjustment. Even I know that bracing against it isn’t what’s required — even if it’s my natural inclination! Perhaps there’s some communication of intent on both sides that’s beyond words, where as a teacher you can tell if your intervention is provoking curiosity, creating depth, allowing release — or maybe isn’t welcome at all. This would certainly nuance the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ approach to assists. I can’t wait to find out how it looks and feels from the other side.