Dear Yoga Teacher,
Do you understand anatomy? No? Then stop touching people. Seriously, how are you assisting and adjusting people if you don’t understand even the basics of anatomy? JUST. STOP. IT.
Yes. Yes. I know. It was covered in your teacher training for 5 seconds. Or you took a two hour workshop learning assists (but NOT learning anatomy). Kinda like a monkey see monkey do kind of thing. There is no “standard” down dog assist. You must look at the body. What are the actions of the pose? Do they need more flexion? Extension? Maybe a bend in the knees? Where are the lines of energy? Is there a disconnect? What muscles need to engage? What muscles are stretching? What are your students postural tendencies? If you’re giving some cookie cutter assist you’ve learned then you’re not helping anyone- and you might actually be hurting them.
Do you care if you hurt someone? You do? Then stop touching them. Yes I know, people like to be touched. Me too! But people don’t like being hurt. I’ve seen so many yoga injuries from over zealous, over confident yoga teachers. And guess what? The injured yoga student rarely tells the teacher.
Two recent examples:
#1 Woman comes to me experiencing right “sit bone” pain. I ask her what happened and she explains a teacher she adores, assisted her so deeply in a standing forward fold that they both heard a “pop”. She knew instantly she tore her hamstring. The teacher told her “it was a good thing and something just let go.” Um, no yoga teacher. Injuring someone isn't good- especially when she continues to be in pain months later. Is this teacher a bad person? No! Of course not. Not at all! She meant well. But she injured someone. That is never ok. Ahimsa must be at the core of everything we do.
#2 Student comes to me before class to let me know her back is bothering her and will be taking it easy in class. I asked her what happened and she reluctantly shared how a teacher she loves, assisted her in crescent twist. She twisted way deeper than she ever had before. “It was exhilarating” were her exact words. After the teacher walked away from assisting her, she initially felt ok, but by the end of class she could already feel her back seizing up. The teacher came up to her again at the end of class and assisted her in shoulder stand. She was in so much pain but was afraid to say anything to teacher. By that evening she could barley move without pain. I watched her move in class and she was in agony. It killed me to watch. Why assist someone so deeply? What’s the purpose?
Are you making sure your students core is stabilizing them before cranking them into a deep twist? If you are that teacher squeezing your students hips square with your legs and mindlessly rotating as deeply as you can- JUST. STOP. IT. You MUST be teaching some kind of core engagement. Plus the spine benefits SO MUCH from gentle twisting so just chill out a bit, eh?
What is your intention when touching someone? If you don’t have an answer to that question then STOP TOUCHING PEOPLE.
I know. I sound like a bitchy know it all. And maybe I am. Truth is I’ve probably hurt someone during an assist and they never told me. I still feel pressure to do a lot of crazy assisting. I never touch people without a clear purpose. I always have an intention of teaching my student something about their body or movement. I communicate through the entire assist and only work with people I see regularly.
And yes, I’m writing this piece with my own history and bias. I’ve been injured on 4 occasions by 4 different yoga teachers. They pushed my body beyond it’s limit and I paid the painful price because of it. I should add these were all experienced knowledgable teachers that I love and respect. So even with a ton of knowledge and experience, we must be SO TUNED IN to what we are feeling when assisting someone.
Take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. Assisting and adjusting people is an incredible and invaluable teaching tool. But it comes with risk and a lot of responsibility. So proceed with caution and intention.
**IF YOU ARE A STUDENT READING THIS- JUST BECAUSE A TEACHER IS CONFIDENT DOESN'T MEAN THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING. TRUST YOURSELF. IF SOMETHING DOESN'T FEEL RIGHT- SPEAK UP. PLEASE SPEAK UP. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR YOGA TEACHER. THANK YOU!
P.S. You can be a really amazing yoga teacher without doing crazy deep assists.