The Power of Hands-On Assists

...and why more yoga teachers should be integrating them into their teaching practice.

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I’ve noticed a decline in - or perhaps just an absence of - hands-on adjustments. In just these few recent months I began to notice that I was receiving zero hands-on assists, so I decided to ask different yoga teachers in my area what their thoughts were on this topic.

My conversations with them affirmed what I was noticing. “Yeah, it’s true. I rarely receive hands-on assists,” they told me (or expressed a varying shade of this same sentiment). What made me even sadder to hear? Despite really wanting to offer them, these same teachers don’t assist. Why?!

Lack of confidence + Fear

Because of these two factors, they have decided to just stop giving assists altogether. A part of me cringed inside hearing this because I have experienced, time and time again, the power and value of hands-on assists. It has been a huge part of my teaching practice, enhancing my offerings and initiating deeper bonds between me and my students. 

So I wanted to take some time to address both of these reasons and how we can overcome them.

Lack of confidence:

Teachers don’t feel completely sure where to put their hands, the amount of pressure to use, how to intuit if a student is receiving an assist well or not. Teachers are uncertain how to enter and exit an assist, or they doubt themselves when it comes to how they even guide the body (internal or external rotation? for example.)

Fear:

I think we’ve become overly sensitive in the yoga culture. There is a growing apprehension around approaching students, robbing us of an important tactile experience that, I believe, adds to the practice. We are so afraid of how our touch will be received that we abandon it altogether. Questions around this fear arise: how will my student interpret my touch? Will my touch be inappropriate? This is understandable, especially with more and more people speaking out about violating & unwanted assists they’ve received during a class.

What I’m saying is that I completely understand this fear. I’ve experienced it and it still shows up from time to time. But what I’ve noticed, in my own teaching experience, is that the fear comes up when I don’t feel confident with an assist. It's a cue for me that I need to practice the assist more (on other yoga teachers or students I know very well) & maybe even attend an assisting training so I can revisit & refine my skills.

Skillful, well-intended, confident assists don’t feel creepy or violating.

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It’s when we don’t know what we are doing that we run the risk of delivering a questionable assist. So the way to resolve lack of confidence and fear? Learn assists, practice assists, and feel confident delivering assists that feel inspiring and enhance your student’s experience, rather than detract from it.

I would ask you: are you not assisting because it’s just not part of your teaching practice or are you not assisting because fear is stopping you?

If it’s the latter, I encourage you to overcome this fear by educating yourself around hands-on assisting. That way, you can step into a role where you are assisting with confidence and actually helping your students discover something about their body in a pose.

With less teachers giving hands-on assists, we cut ourselves, and our students, off from the potential that assists hold. We close ourselves off to receiving the benefits of assists.


So, let’s look at the assisting practice.

What constitutes a good assist?

1. Intention.

Know your intention. Why are you assisting this person? What assist would you like to give them and why? This makes you more skillful because, rather than giving a general assist, you tailor the assist to the student’s body and help them find their own alignment.

2. Logistics

Knowing hand placement, pressure, direction & type of assist. This allows you to know the assist even before you move into it, so you step into the student’s space with confidence.

3. The assist has been practiced!

Practice on fellow teachers, on family members, friends, students who know you well and trust you.

4. There is a conversation happening with the student (both verbal & nonverbal)

Remember that your student is an active participant. The assist is not being done to the student, it’s being done WITH the student. The conversation can be nonverbal - sensing what the student needs for their unique body. This sensing skill will sharpen the more you practice assists. The conversation can be verbal - allowing yourself to talk to the student before, during, and after. Examples: is it okay if I touch you? Is this okay? Hey, was that assist I gave you during class okay? Let me know if you have any questions or feedback on it. Don't be afraid to talk to your student during an assist. I've found that most students really enjoy this because they feel like they are a part of it, which they are! It's an empowering experience for them.

5. Supportive.

The assist feels caring. It has this sense of I got you, I’m here for you. Your assist should enhance, not fix, the student’s pose.


What is the power of a good assist?

1. Your student will feel seen and cared for.

Enough said.

2. They can build a relationship between teacher and student.

They can enhance your student retention. You get to know your students and their practice more intimately, which allows you to help them figure out where to go next in order to progress in their practice.

3. They help guide the student into a space they previously didn’t have access to.

Whether the demo or verbal cue didn’t resonate or they weren’t quite sure how their body could move in that pose, your hands can be a doorway for the student to access their alignment and their body. It moves the person, literally and figuratively. 

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4. They can be challenging, in a good way.

Certain assists can encourage and inspire a student to go somewhere they didn’t think they could. Example: inversions. Your support and enthusiasm can help them get to a place of empowerment, pride and confidence. Because they tried. Because they went beyond what they though they could do. And THAT feeling doesn’t just stay on the mat. That’s a moment that permeates their life. If we, as teachers, can help someone feel confident and empowered on the mat, what does that do for them in their life?

5. Educational for the teacher.

Different body types, different needs, different alignment, different capabilities and limitations, different responses. All of this is valuable information for us as teachers. It allows us to expand our toolbox because we learn how to work & communicate with different bodies. We receive feedback - nonverbally & verbally - from our students.

At the end of the day, you are creating the culture of your classroom. What kind of culture and community do you want to cultivate?

Lastly, to offer your students a level of care and intimacy in a non-sexual way is incredibly beautiful and needed. Yes, there are students who may not want to be touched. Respect that & respect them. It's their body and their choice, so they have the ultimate say in what they want and need.

But then, there are also students who may be having a bad day, who may be craving human interaction, who may be in a moment of their life where they don’t feel so loved or seen...and your interaction with them could be the bright spot in their day. At the end of the day, our students just want to be seen and heard (like every human being on this planet) so, assist or no assist, how can you truly see your student and let them know they are important?

If you really don’t want to touch your students, here are some options for other ways to assist! 

1. Use their name

2. Offer them a prop if they need it

3. Offer verbal assists

4. Talk to them after class about their practice

5. Try assists on other teachers/people you have a more personal relationship with

I think this is such an important conversation to have and I hope this helps open up one in your own teaching and yoga community. I hope this inspires you to think about assisting and the many ways you can assist your student so they can shine. Don’t be afraid to talk to your regular students about this either. What do they think about assists? Opening up this conversation and hearing from your students may help you feel more comforatable moving into an assisting practice.


UPCOMING HANDS-ON ASSISTS TRAINING

September 28th - 30th at Sangha Studio in VT.

Click here to learn more about our upcoming Hands-On Assists training [Foundations & Advanced]

And here is a video from our last training & one of the many assists we will go over.