Yea don’t touch me especially if it’s like that.
I recently started teaching a new class two weeks ago. I usually don’t give many assists in a new class until I get to connect with the student or ask the class during first child’s pose to raise a hand if they don’t want to be touched. Since it was a small class and I did not get any “don’t touch me” vibes, I naturally gravitated to giving some easy feel good assists (i.e. down dog). No one complained or felt uneasy. Later on during the class, I went to give a supported assist to one student in parivrtta utkatasana (prayer twist). My intentions were to help guide her upper shoulder away from her ear. I always give a verbal assist before touching the student. As my hands began to approach her shoulder, she started to freak out and asked me to not hank her shoulder open because it was healing from an injury. For a second this threw me for a loop and I assured her that I was not going to hank her shoulder open and just supported her hips instead. I felt terrible about the experience she had in that pose and wanted to speak with her afterwards but did not get to. I figured she probably won’t come back.
To my surprise, she came back this week. We chatted and she politely asked me to not give her any assists for a while until I got to know her body and how her body moved. Never have I gotten such valuable and honest feedback from a student. I’ve seen many students just not come back or just sit thru their experience because they are afraid to confront the teacher.
As a student, I love to get assists that can help me relax into the posture. When I am relaxed, it feels good to go deeper. As a teacher, I love to give assists that not only supports the student in a healthy alignment but also supports them to relax into the posture and then they can go deeper on their own. Never would I push, pull or twist someone into a posture.
In that split second before I give an assist, I have to ask myself what my purpose behind this assist is. It’s boiled down to these:
1. To help the student feel good in their posture.
2. Bring awareness to their current alignment and leave them with some knowledge on how it would feel different if they moved this or that.
4. To ground myself. Yes, sometimes teachers get scattered during class and it’s helpful to connect with someone in a pose to bring myself back or reground myself like the moment that student freaked out.
Yes, sometimes a teacher’s ego or impatience will show up in an assist. Sometimes a student will hold back because they are afraid of new territory and need that extra support to encourage them. Sometimes a teacher just can’t wait to take the students to the next level… “if only they can bind, we can go to another variation of this boring pose.” I admit that sometimes I wish the entire class could do a full bind and we can have some fun with a new pose.
If you’re a student out there, know that when a teacher gives an assist, there can be lots of meaning and intention behind the touch you are receiving. But it is your responsibility and your right to let the teacher know if you are uncomfortable with any assist you have received. On the same token, if you received a super yummy assist, we teachers like to know that too so that we can remember what we did right. Ok it also makes us feel good and strokes our ego a bit 🙂