I’m passionate about teaching yoga classes in a multi-layered way: I aim to create a well thought through and creative sequence, precisely cue alignment, add a theme beyond the physical, maintain the overall pace of the class and manage a playlist to provide an uplifting soundtrack…
However, I also feel that as teachers we can do more. We can attend to students individually to enhance their experience, support their understanding and learning, and hopefully increase the joy they derive from their practice.
And we can learn to do all that while still keeping the overall flow of the class going.
I first started my yoga journey with an ashtanga vinyasa practice many years ago, where hands-on assists were common. I got a lot out of them personally, and have been including them as an option in my classes since I started teaching.
Hands-on assists can be a powerful way to add another dimension to practise. If applied skillfully, they provide a world of tactile information that other cues simply can’t provide.
They can be a great tool to help students feel stable and grounded in a pose while also providing a sense of direction, length and space. They support ‘shtira’ – steadiness, and ‘sukha’ – lightness and ease.
They also come with cautions and clearly don’t feel safe, comfortable or appropriate for everyone. And they are by no means the only way to personally attend to students during a class.
As teachers we can suggest ‘self hands-on assists’ in certain postures, where students can use their own body position and weight for leverage and traction. And we can expand on typical visual and language cues addressed to the class in general through the use of gestures, individual verbal assists, and individual demonstration to show students how to best use props or modifications, clarify alignment, or prevent or support injuries for their own individual body.
With sensitive and appropriate verbal or hands-on assists we acknowledge our students and make them feel ‘seen’, which can be a compelling way to enrich their experience. We also directly prompt or reinforce a learning process.
This deeper understanding can then have a long-term enriching effect on their practice.