Month: March 2015
The Art of Assisting
By Alison Feller
What feels even better than opening up into Half-Pigeon toward the end of class? How about getting a hip massage while you’re down there? Or what about when you’re trying to finally nail that handstand, and suddenly there’s someone standing in front of you, ready to help steady your legs so you can hang out upside-down for a while?
While you can do any yoga practice on your own, having someone there to offer assists during class can completely heighten and transform your experience—and can help you get into poses you never thought you’d do. But there’s much more to assisting than just helping students get deeper into poses. Here’s what all yogis should know about the art of assisting. (Spoiler: The instructors aren’t grossed out by touching your sweat. Really!)
What role does assisting play in the Baptiste Yoga practice?
Bethany Lyons, Lyons Den co-founder and instructor: We are all about empowering people on the mat, so powerful assists are a surefire way to do that if done with intention and great execution. We are a hands-on, inclusive community.
What’s the methodology behind providing assists to students? How do you work the room?
Bethany: In a large class, we work a “typewriter” style, giving one assist to each person. This makes assisting a part of the class in a seamless way, and it’s not about “fixing” only certain individuals, but rather empowering each person’s practice. We also “roam” from one place to another, looking for the opportunities to make a difference in a big way when work-shopping a pose. And obviously if a teacher sees a student doing something that could be dangerous to themselves or others around them, we move to assist them right away regardless of the “assisting plan.”
We don’t adhere to the policy of having to assist someone on both sides of a pose, which is common in many studios. I look at it as teaching a student how to fish, rather than giving them the fish. If I give an assist to lengthen the spine and get a deeper twist in Triangle Pose on the right side and then always go back to assist that same student on the other side, the student actually misses the opportunity to explore the same actions for themselves. They miss out on self-discovery. It’s really important to me that our students do not depend on assistants to do the work for them.
What are some of your favorite assists to give?
Bethany: One-legged dog into flip-dog, to see people get extension and freedom like never before; airborne Gorilla pose, for those who really trust me and themselves; drop backs from standing to Wheel; and anything with the hips, because I know how good they feel!
Meg McNeal, Lyons Den instructor: I give a mean twist assist, and I love giving students a Savasana massage that leaves them feeling like they don’t want to pick themselves off the floor at the conclusion of class.
What is the most common assist you see people needing?
Bethany: Hips forward/joints stacked in Forward Folds, and pressing the foundation of hands and feet in Down Dog to get the weight back.
Meg: Chaturanga/low plank. For the love of the shoulder joints, this is such an important pose to understand. The way I most frequently assist this pose is by simply placing a block under your chest so you can’t go too low toward the floor, and directing your hips forward while pulling the elbows in slightly as you lower down.
Be honest—you have to touch a lot of very sweaty bodies. Does it gross you out at all?
Bethany: I would really be in the wrong business if sweaty bodies grossed me out! A little sweat is not a problem in my book. I do sometimes use a towel to avoid slippage, though—and I shower often.
Meg: No! I don’t mind the sweat—I don’t even mind touching feet.
What do you wish more students understood about the assisting process?
Meg: If you’re receiving an assist, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong! An assist is meant to enhance your pose, refine alignment, and give you a better experience. You still need to do the work of the pose! We’re there to support and stabilize, and help move your energy—not to force you into a pose where you’re completely dependent on our physical support. And speak up! If something is painful or uncomfortable, or if you feel we’re pushing you beyond your limits, you must let us know.