Hands On: My Life As a Yoga Assistant Part 1

Student: You don’t assist classes anymore?

Me: Not any more, no.

Student: Why?

Me: The answer starts below…

I started on this back in 2009–the journey that is–with my first training. It was two years into a solid yoga studio practice, which before then was a practice that only took place in the comfort of my own home. I didn’t know what I was in for and honestly didn’t care. It seemed like the natural progression which I witnessed over and over again in the Western culture that I live in. Practice yoga. Train in yoga. Teach yoga. But I had no desire to teach, and it wouldn’t be until years later that I discovered why that was SO true for me.

I wanted to “assist.” I wanted to speak with my hands. This is what seemed natural for me, to offer support to others within their practice. But even though I had received good, confusing, forceful, painful, amazing assists, I wanted to know more. When I was being assisted, I noticed that each one I received was SO different. Was it the person Assisting me? Was it my body? Was I doing something wrong? Was I being corrected? Was I being supported? Was this what it was supposed to feel like? Was I in trouble? My brain would flood with questions, and there never really seemed to be answers. I was consumed with judgement, blame, and finger pointing. Could I even speak up about this? In a way, I felt powerless around receiving assists. I would avoid certain classes where certain people assisted. I feared their energy, their smell, the way they looked at me or didn’t, the emptiness I felt when they touched me. So I went to the training and I had many insights–and so much more. 

The more came from within. It was a listening, a way of speaking that felt so familiar, even though it was new. It was like being heard for the first time. So naturally, I wanted to learn more. Because I had no desire to teach, I felt called to study yoga therapy, specifically with the style taught by Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. Here is where I developed my language. I already had the hands-on skills taught by power yoga teachers and assistants, body workers, and anatomy specialists. But none of them offered me the knowledge I have developed through becoming a yoga therapist.

We all know what it’s like to walk on eggshells. We know how to tread lightly around certain people we’re speaking to, to have boundaries, and to approach certain people with conditional behavior. We learn throughout life what to ignore, what to be comfortable around, and how to be respectful. At least that’s the hope, right? So if I take my words away, and speak with touch, why is it that what once felt clear is now not so clear?

I was told once during an assistant training weekend I was leading that “you can’t teach energy.” I never claimed to, but felt the need to educate people who never even thought about it. When you meet someone, you get an impression. At first it’s based on how they look, how they carry themselves, then what they speak. But first, though you may not notice it, you get a feeling. Maybe it’s a gut feeling or an intuitive sense, something unexplainable, a “read.” Sometimes that feeling doesn’t match the pleasant, respectful behavior or words presented. Sometimes that person may be “nice enough” but leaves you with a feeling of question, something just “not right.” This is what I’m talking about. THIS is what was missing from all my trainings before yoga therapy. THIS is about INTENTION.

These are the things that live within the word INTENTION for me:

Why? (Why am I doing this?  Why am I here?)

What? (What am I saying? What am I feeling? What am I doing?)

How? (How am I approaching? How am I being? How am I feeling?)

Presence (What’s happening now? On EVERY level?)

Who? (Who am I touching? Who is in front of me? What are their whys, whats, hows, and presence)?

Why was I learning this last? Why was this NOT something I got from my trainings before this? I felt called to begin offering this myself and began to lead assistant trainings and even train people interested in the art of assisting in a class setting. I still refused to call it teaching. During that time I also trained with PRYT as a group facilitator, which meant I could lead an eight-week program focused around the PRYT methodology. I began to identify more with the word facilitator as I experienced what it was like to allow people to discover themselves. Training new assistants, it became clear to me that the first-impression-based mentality of our culture was actually what got in the way for most people. In the Western yoga world, I’ve heard moving past this refered to as an “unlearning.”

There was something that happened when people new to touch touched people. It blew my mind. I witnessed an uncovering of so much baggage. There was worry, anger, fear, resentment, over compensation, the list goes on. I had NO idea that placing a hand on someone could bring up so much. Every person training brought something different; they dealt a whole new deck of cards. If you think about a deck of cards, each card has two sides. One side usually states the brand of the card company. The other could be anything: a joker, a two of hearts. When you’re assisting someone, it’s like a deck of cards. On one side, the person in front of you is a person, a human being just like you. On the other side, they are older/younger, have had broken bones in the past, have been abused, are male/female/trans, have skin issues, mental issues, emotional issues, just got fired, dumped, lost a loved one, just smoked pot, reeks of alcohol, the list goes on. But they’re still from the same deck. They’re still a human being. It sounds simple, right? It’s not. How can I look at everyone with the same positive regard? How can I be neutral, despite everything I’ve been conditioned to think to be true? It’s something to think about.

Would you like to be assisted? How many people have ASKED you that question?