I preface this post with an acknowledgment that it’s been some time since I last wrote – but I have been doing other updates around the website, such as About Me and my Instagram feed (check them out and let me know what you think!).
I wanted to reflect more on “hands-on assists” after the workshop given as part of my yoga teacher training. I was really excited for this weekend. On the face of it, assists are a way of creating a yummy yummy movement or stretch in your students that will make them feel damn good. Going deeper, for me, this is what being a yoga teacher is all about! You can be passionate about yoga, know the moves, do the moves, deliver instructions and cues with confidence, but putting your hands on someone in your class and helping them find something new is how you truly connect with someone, show them what their yoga practice really is, and make them feel amazing about it. That’s teaching.
I had a LOT of takeaways from my training and I’ve tried to summarise here those that really resonated with me:
1. It gets you connected
This is the first rule of YogaOne’s assists – we are there to connect, never to correct – and there is a real connection that comes out of a hands-on assist. Physical touch is really quite intimate, especially in today’s world where most of us are distanced, closed off, or hidden behind a phone (guilty). It also takes a great deal of trust and vulnerability to receive an assist, and a great deal of loving kindness, nurturing, and strength to give one. Touching, feeling, and breathing with someone. These are not what society dictates as “normal” exchanges between relative strangers, and for two people to be open to it does create a connection. We acknowledge and value each other’s existence. That’s something that I find really special, and something that I cherish about getting to do hands-on assists. I want to create that connection every time, for me and for my student.
2. It keeps you grounded
you have at your palms a living, breathing, reminder of all that you love about yoga
My very first teaching experience as part of this training was a six-minute slot in a jam-packed community class with nine other teacher trainees. I was excited, but also nervous, trying to ignore the worst-case scenario “what-ifs” turning in my mind. My part started and was going well; I was teaching a sequence I was fairly familiar with and it felt good. But, a few minutes in, my mind went blank. What was the next pose? How can I cue them into it? I couldn’t think of the words. I was on the tipping edge of a downward spiral into panic when I looked at my students. I saw Kim who I had met earlier, brand-new to yoga, walked over, and put my hand on her ribs.
“Inhale, lift the ribs, …exhale, rotate towards me”
Those few seconds that I spent giving an assist to my student maybe did more for me than it did for her. It made me breath, brought me back in the room, showed me why I was doing all this; in essence it grounded me, and I was able to go on with the class as though nothing had happened. Hands-on assists are a great tool for yoga teachers in that way, you have at your palms a living, breathing, reminder of all that you love about yoga, and what brought you to be teaching it in a particular room at a particular time. In times of struggle, panic, or to use the ancient yogi saying: brain fart, you can put your hands on your students, support them, breath with them, and tap into all the reasons you’re a yoga teacher.
3. It’s surprisingly emotional
Coming from an engineering background I did struggle to receive some of the guidance we were given on hands-on assists (and for that matter, throughout all the training!). We talked about the healing effect of our hands – how through touch, breath, and focus, you can transfer energy to your students, to heal, to comfort and to connect. We talked about how through assisting you are also opening up to receiving your students’ energy, which can be positive, and it also can be negative. We talked about if something negative comes up while assisting, to place hands on the floor, to ground down, reinforce who you are and what isn’t yours. We talked about the importance of washing your hands and arms after assisting to clean yourself of foreign energy. Weird.
At the very beginning of this training I committed, with my tribe, to trust the process, to challenge my assumptions, and to let that shit go (#LTSG!), I trusted, respected and admired my teachers, so I was open to this information if not at first able to understand it.
And then I assisted.
My first assist was one-on-one, for a full hour; (almost) every pose in YogaOne’s hot sequence. It was surprisingly powerful. There were moments when I literally welled up with joy and moments where I was almost crippled with frustration. It was genuinely shocking to me.
I think depending on who you are and what you believe in there is a way for your brain to interpret anything into your “language”.
I reflected on this over the next few days and came to my feelings. I think depending on who you are and what you believe in there is a way for your brain to interpret anything into your “language”. Many people do believe in the power of touch and the transfer of energy, many people do not. You could interpret giving someone an amazing assist that took them somewhere new as a transfer of their positive energy into you, or you could interpret it as your own pride, happiness, or a sense of accomplishment, that you were able to do that for your student. You could interpret assisting someone who is reluctant, closed off, or frustrated as a transfer of their negative energy into you, or you could interpret it as you getting frustrated because you weren’t able to help. For some, washing your hands and arms after assisting is a way to remove energy that isn’t yours, for others it may simply be to remove sweat that isn’t yours! I think, depending on the brain, the two achieve the same outcome; the effects are the same.
Me, I am opening up to the idea that my emotional responses during assisting is linked to my perception of others’ emotion. Some say energy, I think I say empathy.
4. AssistEEs can learn a thing or two
A surprising takeaway from my training was how as a yoga student I can be more open to hands-on assists. Before training when approached for an assist I grew self-conscious, I felt like I was doing something “wrong”, that they were there to correct me. Sooo not the case. Everyone can benefit from an assist, from the most experienced yogi to a new student taking a break in child’s pose. The intention is always good; to help you protect yourself, to connect with you, to support you, to allow you to go somewhere your brain is saying you can’t go. I can see my previous attitude in some students now (and catch it in myself too – often.), and I’m working on how best to help them understand what I’m really there for.
I encourage any yoga student to open their hearts to hands-on assists, to trust their assistors and acknowledge their good intentions. AND, if you ever just want to do your own thing, always, always mention it, with kindness, to your teacher.
Yoga teachers and students out there, what do you think about hands-on assists? Let me know in the comments!
Here’s to living connected.