Since I started teaching yoga a little over a year ago, I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time as a student – taking workshops with master teachers, immersing myself in an advanced week-long training (in which my daily cup of Joe was considered contraband), practicing to podcasts while scribbling down cool cues and sequence ideas, reading books, blog posts and, currently, attempting to leaf through BKS Iyengar’s “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” without nodding off.
Because I’m so crazy passionate about all this, it never feels like work. Even if I have to sneak in a few packets of Starbucks Via Instant in my yoga bag. But one area of my teaching that needs constant attention is the Art of Assisting. Non-yogis reading this may be wondering what the heck is ‘artful’ about ‘assisting’ some odd human position, but those in my shoes know how powerful a good assist in class can be. Powerful on so many levels – it allows the student to feel the possibility of positive growth. To get a little taste of what it would be like to embody a pose they never thought they could achieve on their own.
I’ve recently been taking an Anusara-based practice (think long, deep holds with every alignment cue explained in excruciating detail as you wait and wait and wait for the teacher to let you out) as part of my learning. My extraordinary teacher (Naime Jezzeny at Dig Yoga in Lambertville, NJ) is a master at the Art of Assisting, using firm hands but a lighthearted humorous approach to move us into poses we thought were reserved for Yoga Journal cover boys. Last week he guided me into king pigeon. “Those are YOUR toes!” he cheered as I momentarily brushed my back foot with both hands. Astounding.
Now I know it’s gonna be a good long while before I reach for said toes on my own, but the power of this assist made me realize how vital it is to get my hands on my students to give them an amazing experience in class too. But this is a challenge for me. For most of my life, I’ve shied away from touching people. I don’t really know why, my family was always affectionate, but if I had to dig deep and spend a few hours pondering this on the shrink’s couch, I’d probably arrive at past issues I’ve had with self-confidence and self-worth. The yoga is clearly helping.
I attended Baptiste Art of Assisting at Sid Yoga (another awesome studio you must check out) in Baltimore last month, and spent three straight days digging into 70 bodies in every pose I know. This was an awesome entree into this wonderful art, and I’m slowly getting comfortable applying what I’ve learned in my own classes. But as this is truly an art form, my work continues, and I’m determined to weave this missing link into all my classes, so every student can leave with a strong sense of what is possible for them, both on and off the mat.