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“Why did you touch my back?” Why I assist during class....

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

Occasionally a student will say to me “why did you press my back? Am I doing it wrong?” And my answer is always a resounding “NO” and a reassurance that I mostly only assist students who are actually doing very well and look like they have more movement and space available to them to deepen into a posture. Many students are already at their own deepest expression of a posture but sometimes a press in the back in a forward fold or downdog for example will bring a student’s focus to a deeper activation of the muscles involved. Sometimes it will be to help a student find more space for their breath....

My teacher training was with Brian Cooper who wrote “The Art of Adjusting”, an internationally acclaimed book which is a required manual on most teacher training courses so, needless to say, we spent a great deal of time over my training weekends on the 9 month course learning to adjust/assist in a safe and effective manner, and I like to think I’ve developed quite an eye for potential extra space in students over my 7 years of teaching and training, as well an awareness of the huge variety of body types and strengths and weaknesses of individuals.

Not all assistance is physical, verbal is often enough.....when I say ‘relax the shoulders’ for example, it’s because I’m seeing several students tense; when I say this is a breathing practice, it’s because I can see some students losing their focus on their breath....

I often don't physically assist beginners during their first few sessions as they’re still forming a relationship with the practice and finding their own way.....in this case I’ll obviously assist if at risk of harm or if there is a way to find more ease in a posture....

There are some postures I’ll avoid assisting with...utthita hasta padangusthasana (hand to toe balance) for example is a challenging posture that needs time to evolve as the two sides of the pelvis are essentially being asked to move in two different directions. It also works on the flexibility of the hip joints, as do several of the seated postures so great care is needed here....

However, when it comes to binds, very often I can see that a student has much more openness than they realise so I’ll assist by slightly changing their arm position to find more space in the shoulder or elbow.

So, even though I’m always saying that it doesn’t matter how deeply into a posture you are to reap the benefits, sometimes a deepening of a posture with a gentle assist can increase the benefits of that particular posture; maybe helping discover where the energy of the posture goes, how it can send our focus inwards even more, how it can help us connect with the breath, how it can reconnect us with the nervous system in a more dramatic, healing way....

Traditionally teachers of Ashtanga Yoga would assist/adjust as much as possible but back in the old days, they could be very forceful or inappropriate, often forcing bodies into postures they’re weren’t ready for, and causing injury. Nowadays most teachers show much more awareness of individual differences and soften their approach as I do, so please always feel free to ask about any assists I do, or request anything you’d like me to do, and always always feel free to refuse.....








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