My students and I got a fun surprise yesterday during my normal scheduled 8 AM power class at Hot Yoga Plus: a teacher trainee came by to assist!
A yoga assist is when the teacher, assistant, (or, as in this case, both) use their hands and body to assist a student into a pose. Sometimes I hear people call them “corrections,” but it’s not necessarily that – it just helps the pose feel better in your body.
As I shared with her the various things I know about assists, it occurred to me that readers here may want to know, too. So I’ll break it down into two sections: one for receiving assists, and another for giving them.
THREE TIPS FOR RECEIVING ASSISTS:
So you’re new to yoga or you’ve been going to a class without assists. Suddenly the teacher’s voice is getting closer…and closer…and now they’ve got you by the waist. What gives?
1.) Work with your teacher, not against them. Rather try to tiptoe away from the assist or even politely decline, just accept that yoga assists are part of yoga. They exist to make the pose feel better. Accept that your teacher is trying to help you.
2.) If you don’t feel your teacher physically move your body in a direction, there is no need to go in that direction. For example, if, in downward facing dog, a teacher or assistant pulls your hips up, there is no need to walk your hands backwards – just help them out and pull your hips up.
3.) Savasana is a the ultimate posture for delicious assists. Your teacher or assistant will be working hard here to massage heads, lengthen necks, and ground shoulders and legs, but you don’t need to do anything but enjoy your pinnacle posture. If I gently pull on your neck, you don’t have to scoot your whole body closer to me – just lay back and enjoy.
SIX TIPS FOR GIVING ASSISTS:
Maybe you’re in training to become a yoga teacher, or maybe you’re teaching already but are not yet totally comfortable with touching your students. In the words of one of my favorite yoga teachers, Johnna Smith: “TOUCH THEM.”
1.) Really – touch them. Maybe it seems like too much to teach and assist at the same time, but practice makes perfect. Start studying and getting comfortable with one series, like sun salutations or warrior or even savasana, then move onto the next. Touching them in one series is better than not touching at all.
2.) That being said, if you don’t know the assist, don’t do the assist. Don’t risk injury. First study, then practice on someone who knows that you’re practicing it (like another teacher or your significant other) then when you’ve mastered it, help out your students.
3.) With any assist, begin from the ground up. Start by really looking at your students’ foundations – in standing postures, this is their feet. If their feet aren’t secure (maybe they’re peeling their foot inward on Warrior two) then ground the feet first. If their feet look good, move to their legs. If legs look good, move to hips. If hips are aligned, move to ribs, then shoulders, then arms, fingers, neck, head, and gaze. If everything is aligned, then move to depth. Which brings me to…
4.) Alignment before depth. This means that you have to know, intimately, healthy alignment in every posture you assist. You wouldn’t encourage a student to extend their arms in tree if their foot were pressing into their knee. Similarly, if a student is struggling to stay balanced a peaceful warrior, don’t stretch out their side body – begin at the base and help them out with alignment first.
5.) Assist like you mean it. If you’re going to assist, use your palms and put some muscle behind it. Go in confidently and remember that you’re a professional – if they want to feel a stranger’s fingers brush their bodies, they’ll go into a crowded elevator or nightclub. Chances are this is not why they came to your yoga class.
6.) Respect your students enough to come into the studio with clean hands and clean feet. There is no need to have a perfect pedicure every time you teach, but if you do any assists involving your feet, (example: stepping on their hands and pushing their hips up in downward facing dog) then wash your feet or shower right before teaching and come to the studio in clean socks (not sandals). Wash your hands before you go into the room. Yes, you will get sweaty again, but at least you’re not carrying anything into the studio you wouldn’t want on your own body.
To switch gears for a moment, I may have found a sprint triathlon to do on Memorial Day Weekend! I’m still thinking it through, but I’m about 90% sure it’s the one, which means I’ll have to start training right away. My google search history is heavy on the “triathlon beginners tips” searches for now, so I thought I’d spread the knowledge I can offer, too!
Any other yoga teachers want to weigh in? What are the most important assisting rules you’ve learned?