Our favorite yoga teachers provide yoga pose assists for reasons based on the specific needs and capabilities of each unique student in a safe and nurturing environment.
In a general sense, the role of the teacher is to guide students on their yoga journey. There are all kinds of good yoga teachers out there, and no matter the teaching approach or technique, good yoga teachers are adept and adaptable communicators. This includes effective cuing with words, gestures, expressions, and physical touch. Hands-on assists are a useful communication tool in the toolbox, and yoga teachers utilize this tool for a few key reasons.
#1 Deepen the experience of a yoga pose
The goal behind these assists is to explore the pose in more depth, enhance expression, and expand kinesthetic awareness. Yoga teachers can offer a new way of being in a pose that will increase enjoyment and accelerate growth.
Sometimes we have mental blocks about our own abilities and what our body is capable of and asking for. That said, it is key to move deeper in a safe way. Be aware of the sensations in your body, and vocalize if something doesn’t feel right.
The idea is that you’re then able to integrate the information into your understanding of the pose, and then put it into practice on your own going forward.
#2 Ensure safe alignment
Everyone’s body has its own beautiful quirks and unique physiology, and you should learn about and celebrate yours. There are some yoga poses that may be less accessible due to your specific anatomy or biomechanics. No big deal! Not all restrictions in poses are due to muscular tightness or a mental block, some are due to bone-on-bone compression. Knowing the difference between tension and compression is key to a healthy asana practice.
For this reason, not every student will be able to place their body in the “ideal posture,” no matter how persistent they are. According to anatomy expert, Paul Grilley, a student’s range of mobility is determined by their unique skeletal structure. Focus should always be on the internal experience, as opposed to the aesthetic, outward, external expression of a pose. Your teacher can bring holistic awareness, integrity, and safety to a pose by modifying and adapting it to YOU and your body.
#3 Foster connection
Physical contact has the power to create a healing connection—in the proper context, of course. When our yoga teachers assist us in elevating our practice and protecting us from injury, it can facilitate trust and build rapport. It lets us know that we are ‘seen’ as an individual even in a large yoga class.
In order for an assist to be effective, it is key for the teacher to utilize proper timing with awareness of each student’s respective kinesthetic intelligence. Trust is built by being mindful of when to use a lighter touch or a heavier hand.
If you already know ahead of time that you’re not comfortable with tactile assists, you should feel absolutely free to communicate that to your teacher. They will not be offended or take it personally because the intention is to help, not to harm in any way.
Different strokes for different folks (literally).
Favorite yoga pose assists
Yoga pose assists can be transformational, spicing up our entire yoga journey. The best assist I ever received was while practicing the most seemingly basic yoga posture—savasana.
Let me state the obvious: savasana is the best. At the end of a rigorous flow practice or maybe just the end of an exhausting week, those last few minutes of class in stillness and silence are often the only waking moments we do that for ourselves. For many new yogis though, it can be challenging at first to find comfort in the stillness.
In the early days of my yoga practice, while in savasana, the teacher gently but firmly pressed the heels of her palms onto the outer corners of my shoulders, applying slight pressure on the deltoids, coaxing me to release the muscle tension and relax down into the pose. I was finally able to trust that the floor was there to support me.
Then she carefully lifted my head slightly up off the floor, placing it softly a little further away from my shoulders, allowing my neck to lengthen, and again enhancing the feeling of being supported by the ground beneath me.
It may sound simple, but because of these key assists I was able to drop into a deeper state of relaxation than I’d ever felt before in savasana. A pose that had previously been somewhat inaccessible to me became my absolute favorite.
Essentially, teachers provide assists in order to support and enhance a student’s experience in a yoga pose in hopes that it will empower the student to incorporate the new knowledge and elevate their self-practice on their own. Our yoga teachers at Ignite Yoga pull from years of experience and intuition when providing personal and student-specific assists.
Let us know in the comments—what has been the most transformative yoga pose assist you’ve received?