The Power of Touch | iHanuman


Love, Service, Devotion, Yoga

The Power of Touch

Explore the pros and cons of hands-on guidance and learn to use skillful assists to empower
your students.
By Sara Avant Stover
"Come on! Extend, Karl! Don't be so stingy!" exclaimed Sharon Gannon, cofounder of Jivamukti Yoga, to student Karl Straub, as she assisted him in Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose). Straub, a Jivamukti Yoga teacher himself, as well as a Thai Yoga Bodywork practitioner, recalls the potency of Gannon's assist-one that he revisits every time he practices that
asana. "The [combination] of challenge and support was extremely powerful," he says. "It's a reminder of the potential of assists." When in the presence of a master yoga teacher, a student, like a flower basking in the sunlight, can grow by leaps and bounds. As a teacher, how can you refine your assists to help your students reach their full potential? How can you serve others as you have been served?
Why Assist?
"Assisting is teaching," asserts Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy and founder of the Breathing Project in New York City. "These are just different words for the same thing. It's all communication that takes various forms-whether verbal, tactile, visual, or proprioceptive."
Sianna Sherman, a globe-trotting senior certified Anusara Yoga teacher, elaborates on the merits of assisting. "Everything about assisting, whether verbally or physically or both," she explains, "is to help the spirit of the student to shine fully so that their innate radiance adds more light to the world." Sometimes a soft suggestion can dramatically shift a student's experience of the class, and of themselves. "The transformation that can happen,"; Sherman says, "reaches deep into the human heart and helps to expand the limited notions we often hold onto about ourselves."
Different Traditions, Different Approaches
In the Anusara tradition, assisting pivots around the maxim that each person is the perfection of the universe, and this perfection keeps on becoming more perfect. "We look for the beauty in every person and are not 'fixing' but rather helping to enhance," Sherman says. Kaminoff, who teaches individualized, breath-centered yoga in the tradition of T.K.V. Desikachar, explains, "The philosophy behind assisting in my approach is that it is completely
dependent upon the needs of the individual we are working with."
He explains that some people should not be touched at all, while others require
significantly more contact.
"Most people are somewhere in between," he says, "and it is the job of the teacher to be sensitive to where students are on that spectrum."
Karl Straub adds that, in Jivamukti Yoga, teachers approach assists in the same way they approach all of their relationships, "with great compassion, awareness, and deep respect." "Yogic assists [are] a creative process between two people, not something that a teacher does to a student. [They] are opportunities to deepen and perfect relationships," he elaborates.
The Tools
A solid understanding of anatomy and biomechanics as well as creativity, awareness, sensitivity, and a spirit of playfulness are essential tools that every yoga teacher should have before assisting. Kaminoff finds that creativity helps him determine who needs what, and when. This spurs him to use "imagery, props (like balls, blankets, sandbags, straps, and cushions), touch (both
light and strong), dialogue, and silence," depending upon the context.
When Sherman applies physical adjustments, she remembers Anusara Yoga's assisting methodology of SSA: sensitivity, stability, and adjustment. The teacher sensitizes by first finding her own breath, and then listening to that of her student. Then the teacher stabilizes herself and the student to make a safe and supportive base.
For stability, "we try to remain standing," Sherman explains, "which also helps us to see the other students and to be ready if anyone needs us in the room. We may position ourselves to the student's back body, especially in standing asanas." Straub has also learned that a sense of humor is essential amid all the technical instructions that teachers usually give students.
"An assist I learned from my teachers," Straub recalls, "is, 'relax your face, smile a bit! Furrowing your brow doesn't make this any easier!'Dowload the Full PDF of the Yoga Journal Article Here

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