You probably won’t see me teaching at the yoga festivals this summer. It’s not because I’m not fabulous. Right? It’s because I prefer assisting rather than teaching at the big events.
Assisting is a chance to change someone’s life. And that’s what yoga used to be about.
I have had a taste of headlining big events. I’ve taught at festivals, filmed videos and led workshops. But while you are wandering around with a headphone on your head, there is always someone nearby who has no idea what the heck to do. And I can’t help it. I’m a fixer and a mother. I am drawn to that person.
Assistants are change agents. We are the hands that rock the cradle. We put the teacher’s cues into action. The assistant can make a difference with every touch.
“You changed my practice, forever,” a student once told me. That’s why I teach, and assist.
We don’t get paid as much, if at all, but an assistant can create real and lasting transformation. While there are a thousand articles on how to be great yoga teacher, I have not seen anything on how to be a great assistant. So here it is: A guide to adjusting and assisting for success.
How to assist a yoga class:
1. Ask your teacher what they want beforehand. Some teachers would like you to touch students; others may only want verbal cues. Do what they request; you are there to serve.
2. Scan the room quickly to make sure everyone is in the right pose. One student on the wrong side will throw off the teacher and the rest of the class.
3. Listen for instructions. If the teacher is cuing core engagement, do not fix a student’s feet. Only attend to the body part being addressed otherwise it takes the student out of the moment.
4. Adjust what you see. Do not walk around like a zombie doing some standard adjustments. Attend to the students’ needs. If someone needs help balancing, help them. Be aware. Be connected.
5. Likewise, do not lurk. The best you can be is invisible. If students are flowing, it is often difficult to adjust. Stand still and to the side to observe who may need help in the future.
6. Be sensitive. Everyone brings a story to the mat. Before you enter someone’s space try to assess if they want modification. If a student resists, move on. There are others who need you.
7. Limit talk. It is a distraction.
8. Do not impress. Be invisible. Assisting is an exercise in humility. You are the hand of the teacher. If you do a good job, your moment will come after class when students thank you.
9. Have your teacher’s back. If they need something, get it. Be the teacher’s eyes and ears. Do what you can to help them be successful too.
10. Remember to praise. If a student makes a change, reward them with a compliment. Notice their effort, not just their result.
11. Study your students. Pick one thing in their practice that will make the most difference, and then stay with it. Adjusting every little thing is overwhelming. But if you find something that will change their practice, then they can focus on it and transform themselves.
12. Adjust everyone. Every student can grow.
Have a happy yoga festival season and remember to thank your assistant. They worked hard for you too. Namaste.
Michelle Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. You can find her just about anywhere there is yoga.