a blog by Ellen Davies

Learning new things: Yoga assists and adjustments

Learning new things: Yoga assists and adjustments

I finally did it. I signed up for a 300-hour yoga teacher training. I have been putting this off for years. I waffled on it for several reasons, but here’s the biggest reason: I have never been comfortable giving assists and adjustments in a yoga class.


I know, right?


In many places, giving assists and adjustments is a given. In some studios, people feel gypped if they don’t get an adjustment. I would say that’s true for most of the studios in my area.


For the training I am doing, I have to pass a module on assists/adjustments. And right after I signed up, I took a deep breath and plunged right into it.


I can tell a difference already


I’m not even halfway through, but already I can feel a difference in my teaching. The first week, I gave a few adjustments in my gentle yoga class. Normally I don’t adjust in a gentle class, because my students in those classes are usually older, more out of shape, new to yoga, and not very flexible. My philosophy up to now has been to allow students to do their own thing. I keep an eye on them so they are safe, but I don’t “mess” with them. I want them to know how the pose feels for their own bodies, and to know that there is no right or wrong, just safe and unsafe.


But then I went in and adjusted their arms in downdog, rolling them open. I did this adjustment called the “faucet shoulders” (to release the shoulders down and back) and they loved it. They were really enthusiastic about getting assists!¬†


Who knew?


A few days later I subbed a vinyasa class, and suddenly it felt so easy and natural to be giving assists. I didn’t feel squeamish or weird about it, either, which has been my problem in the past. I just did it.


Of course it helps that I set a clear intention before class started, one to serve the students’ highest good, and to open myself to the wisdom of yoga and let the wisdom flow through me. I have written about this intention before, when I wrote about teaching with intuition.


Now I’m excited about doing more!


My 300 hour YTT is an online training with Alanna Kaivalya. I first met Alanna at a Yoga Journal conference in Boston, back in 2010. I signed up for her workshop on adjustments and assists. I was so impressed that I went on to take that same workshop with her three more times, twice at the Kennett Y (when I arranged for her to come here and teach in 2011 and 2012) and once at a studio in Washington, D.C.


The fifth time is the charm!


If you are keeping score at home, this means that I am now taking Alanna’s adjustments/assist training for the fifth time. Yup.


All along, I was hoping that one day I would break through all my stuff, all my squeamishness and weirdness about touching people. One day, poof! I would be that yoga teacher who gives amazing assists.


The other side of this stuff is my own experience with adjustments as a student. There are some teachers who give wonderful assists, and I love them. And some teachers do not give good assists. Like the overeager teacher, who won’t leave me alone. The ego-driven assist, from the teacher who thinks she is hot shit. Some teachers give off negative vibes (for whatever reason) and I don’t want them touching me. Lastly, there were several times I got flat-out bad assists. Like the time one teacher pulled me up so fast out of a forward bend that I got dizzy and almost knocked us both over. Or the time a teacher pushed too hard, trying to get my hips squared in pigeon. Not fun.


What I want to do is become that teacher who gives wonderful, nurturing, amazing assists. How do I get there?


I have no idea. Oh wait, yes I do. Practice. Practice. Practice.


Step out in faith. If I stay where I’m comfortable and safe, then my teaching gets stale, and no growth happens. If I venture out into the unknown and start adjusting my students — that’s scary! That might mean I give a lousy assist, and then what’ll happen? I’ll be a bad yoga teacher!


Okay, so I’m exaggerating. A little. But I have started this journey, and I invite you to come with me. I’ll let you know how I’m doing.


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