In this fifth week of training, we are really starting to get hands-on with students by assisting in classes. For the past few weeks, we’ve been breaking down poses in great detail to talk about alignment, verbal cues to get into the postures and observing bodies. With that knowledge, we worked on ways to either verbally assist (roll your hip up and out, step feet wider, etc.) or physically assist with our hands.
Erinn reminded us to trust our intuition and draw from our personal experiences in poses, and that helped a lot to think about what a posture feels like in my own body. What was it like to broaden through the chest or rotate my ribs? How did it feel when my hips were properly stacked and my foot was flexed? What kind of touch or pressure worked for me from my teachers when I received assists?
At first, giving assists came with much hesitation. I don’t want to hurt someone else. I also don’t want to accidentally tickle them or get them off balance. It’s a tricky thing between those two thoughts! I’ve given my husband and family members shoulder or back massages before, but I’m not generally a touchy person with people I’m not super close with. Even then, we have to have a certain agreed upon understanding of what level of touch is comfortable before I engage. It definitely feels different in yoga though. As a teacher, I believe I’m there to help you work your body so you can free your mind, and putting hands on a body to help someone get there feels appropriate.
Another thing to note is I’m not there to fix the pose for a student. That can easily lead to injury. We spent time with Jenn Wooten a couple weekends ago, working on one-touch assists that help a student get into the pose on their own. This is like magic within our fingers! It’s amazing what response comes from placing a finger between the shoulder blades and asking someone to breathe there. The chest automatically broadens, shoulders relax away from ears and draw behind, and the breath becomes less constricted. MAGIC.
So three years ago, I wrote this post about adjustments for newbies. Obviously, this came from my perspective as a student only and before I received any training on assisting as a teacher. I have to giggle because the image I used from the movie Couples Retreat showing Kristen Bell being mounted by a yoga teacher was captioned, “This doesn’t happen in class with speedos and humping action. I promise!” And now I have to go back on my word a little. That hands-on assist DOES exist, but NOT with speedos and um… not quite humping action. We practiced an assist for happy baby where my shins would be on the back of someone’s thighs and drawing down toward the tailbone. There’s also a highly intimate assist Angel showed us where you sit on someone’s thighs while in happy baby and slide downward. You can imagine the alignment of body parts could be quite awkward, so this one is NOT meant to be used with someone you don’t already have a solid teacher/student relationship.
I have a much better understanding of bodies through this part of our training. And the most rewarding part for me is when I get audible or visible affirmation from a student that the pose is working better for them. I remember those a-ha’s with my teachers, and it can completely change certain asanas.