Can I be of assistance?

yoga assistsI 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!

I wonder…

exray skeletonThere 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.

6 thoughts on “Can I be of assistance?

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  1. I have a friend who was taught not to assist or adjust… I was told to touch every student who wants to be assisted or adjusted. The question is, can the person physically do the pose as it is pictured or taught. What happens if the person is anatomically unable to do the pose as it is pictured. What happens is the person has an injury or their range of motion isn’t able to receive the assist or adjustment. What happens if we injure the person assisting or adjusting them. What if we are teaching movements that are not anatomically correct… Lots to consider… To touch or not to touch, that is the question.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree there are many considerations here and it is a difficult area – but potentially a very rich one for the student and student-teacher relationship. I think my teachers insistence on using assist rather than adjust is getting away from the idea of trying to get it right and be like the picture. I think it’s more about creating ease in the pose and exploring it from the inside. But I have much to learn yet…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You have to decide how you feel about it and what word you want to use. Touch is extremely important and a simple touch can create a connection that bonds people. At this time in my life, I find that yoga is about relationships and connections so touch is important. Verbal cues are also important, helping those that come to classes be able to correct themselves or move through space with a word to learn how they move. We never stop learning, it’s a choice of whether you want to continue to grow or whether you want to stay where you’re comfortable. I saw a talk given by Swami Satchidananda where he said, “You are not a teacher but you are a liver, you live your yoga…” Our thoughts and opinions on subjects change as we learn and grow, if we choose to learn and grow. My favorite teacher once told me to take classes from as many as you can. Never stop taking classes. Never stop learning.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I have become reticent to give hands on assists… you never know what might be going on in a student’s life and how they will react… There needs to be lots of trust first. And even then, the context is so fluid – things change day to day. I prefer to use verbal assists, or light physical assists, and I usually try and ask if it ‘s okay…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve definitely found the same, some assists feel like they fit and some just don’t! Maybe I’m too stubborn in my practice but I just do what feels good for me, because I just think everyone’s anatomy is so different- one of my heels is a bit different to the other and it obviously affects how I get into certain poses!

    Liked by 1 person

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