Can I be of assistance?

I sit with the teacher a little before class. She talks about the weather and birdwatching, we talk about mundane weekend plans and what we’re having for lunch. We also talk about the non-sense of 200 hour YTT programmes, how little they equip anyone for the reality of teaching. We consider the difficulty of assessing the physical needs (let alone anything deeper) of the students who walk into your yoga room on any one day, how consent cards might be a quick-fix against law-suits but whether they are antithetical to meaningful student-teacher relationships nurtured over time. It was fascinating and wide-ranging, I listened for as long as she had the time to share her thoughts.

And then there was class. 90 minutes that passed, it seemed, in the blink of an eye. Shapes folded and unfolded, novel transitions first confused and then delighted me, finessed anatomical cuing brought new understanding of poses I thought I was reasonably familiar with. And her seemingly unfailing sense of what was needed. I heard her attend to students variously during class, easing some physical pain for one, reprimanding another for slipping concentration, and going back to alignment basics for another. But she left me alone for most of class. I tried not to congratulate myself on this fact — assuming that my standing postures has essentially passed muster!! I know some students crave personal attention from the teacher. I have some days like that, but usually it’s the opposite — I have to stop seeing it as a challenge to see how far I can get through class without catching the teacher’s attention! Even though, yes, I know assists aren’t always about ‘correction’.

As if to remind me of this fact, the first time the teacher put her hands on me in class were when I was taking a rest between postures, a quick massage to loosen my upper back and shoulders, and very welcome it was too.

After that she assisted me quite vigorously in urdhva dhanurasana. My usual teacher also assists in this pose, but usually only if I ask him. His hands also help me find a deeper backbend and ease through my shoulders but he is super careful in his own positioning, and doesn’t move in so close. I’m not going to spell it out, but this interaction in contrast was pretty intimate. It led me to wonder if a consent card would cover this situation, if as a student I had chosen to find it inappropriate positioning or too personally invasive? But I have experience of a range of yoga assists, some understanding of the pose and the physical imbalances and weaknesses the teacher knows about and was helping with, plus we have quite a long and intimate existing  yoga relationship. All this leads me to trust her, however weird the physical interaction might have looked to the innocent by-stander.

And trust her so much indeed that her next assist in pascimottanasana just folded me effortlessly in half, deeper than I’ve ever been before. No time for any of the anxieties that usually hold me back here. Just a firm assist forward that brought me into a wonderful feeling of surrendering into myself, an exquisite sense of ‘coming home’ such that I always imagine would be here for me one day in this pose. Aaaaaahhhh! I could have stayed for ever. Except that there was a slightly brusque reassuring pat from the teacher, a terse “good”, and we moved on. I wasn’t allowed to linger in this place of self-congratulation or emotional attachment to the new experience of the depth possible in this posture.

I reflected on these experiences on the train home, not just the physical assists but also the wealth of more subtle messages about how to be in my yoga practice. How many years before I can offer so much to my students, I wonder? But in the weird world of yoga consumerism, she had a smaller number of students in her room than I do in mine. Where’s the sense in that? It makes me laugh and cry. But mostly it makes me simply want to serve my students as best I can. I feel my teaching skills are improving through time, slowly but surely. After all practice is everything!

4 thoughts on “Can I be of assistance?

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  1. I’m not convinced about consent cards. I always ask a student if I may adjust them. If we can’t speak our truth in a class, should we be there? Is it the right class? I don’t know, I’m always suspicious of stuff to buy, but that’s just me…

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    1. Well I think being in class can be intimidating for some, and speaking the truth isn’t so easy.
      But I’m not sure consent card are a great answer; they seem to close dialogue and I think the relationships in yoga are really important in learning about self and others
      And I too am suspicious of ‘stuff’ !
      Nice to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me too. I think encouraging students to ‘speak their truth’ is important. To know it’s ok to say how you are. With no judgement given or expected.

        I edit a Yoga magazine for a Yoga organisation and was recently asked to cover these cards. I rarely make calls, I like to be open, but there’s something about them that I find inauthentic… I probably need to give more thought to the deep suspicion I have, but my instinct is very wary.

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