This past month, Just Be Yoga held a 60 hour assisting workshop that I was lucky enough to be a part of. Assisting is a gift that we want to offer every class at Just Be, because the touch of another person is extremely valuable not just in deepening a practice, but in opening a heart. As I learned in the assisting portion of my teacher training, touch is a basic human need. Really. Science has shown time and time again that human contact is integral to our wellbeing and health. It reminds me of the song I learned in kindergarten for Mother’s Day- “Four hugs a day…that’s the minimum…not the maximum!”
The workshop was two weekends long, and the days were packed with valuable information. Guided by lead instructors Heidi Rydman and Jenni Wendell, we experienced in depth breakdowns of postures and explored their energy lines and common alignments. We were able to take notes on recommended assists, and then, perhaps more valuably, were able to try them on our fellow assistants and get a feel for the movements. Although I’ve had exposure to assisting education before, and have assisted classes in the studio, I benefited greatly from the amount of time the workshop offered, allowing more time for questions and discussion. And because I’d been exposed to the basics before, I wasn’t as frozen by the info-influx, and was better able to engage in the discussion and ask relevant questions.
My favorite part of the workshop was a slideshow showing variation in skeletal structure between individuals. Although I saw the pictures in TT, it was still stunning to see just how different each of our bones are, and it truly puts in perspective why each asana will look different in each body. For example, “hyper extension”, or being “double jointed”, is a total misnomer. The only thing causing a different look in their bodies is their bone structure, not some kind of variation in the way they’re moving.
This is important to remember not only as a student (don’t compare your body to someone else’s!), but as an assistant and teacher. We can try and maneuver someone into a “Yoga Journal Worthy Alignment” as much as we want, but if their body isn’t made to go there, it’s not going to go there. That’s one of the things I love about Just Be- we don’t have mirrors in the studio, because we want you to feel your body, not see it.
A common misconception about being assisted in class is that you’re doing something wrong. While assistants may often help new students find the safest interpretation of the shape or help them understand new cues that may be confusing, we assist yogis of all ages and levels of experience (unless, of course, they request to not be touched for various personal reasons). Our goal is never to make a student feel as though they’re doing something wrong, but to instead maximize the sensation in a pose and help them push past their perceived limitations with a little encouragement and love. Sometimes, what it boils down to is just letting someone know you believe in them with a little support. And it truly makes people light up when they are assisted into a new level of their practice. I’ll never forget the way a student’s eyes lit up when I helped her press up from full wheel- it was a rewarding and fulfilling experience for the both of us.
The weekends were incredibly valuable, and I can’t wait to participate in another one. I got to not only learn more about the art of assisting, but also connect with other yogis in the community- even some who will be doing the second ever JBY TT this fall! I’m so excited for them to go on this journey, as it definitely changed my life.
“Instructors correct, teachers connect.” -Jessica Micheletti
A bakasana to handstand assist!