How Important is Physical Assisting in a Hatha Yoga Class?

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How Important is Physical Assisting in a Hatha Yoga Class?

yoga certificationBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

Opinions about the importance of physically assisting students, during Yoga posture (asana) practice, vary. Some styles, such as Iyengar, Restorative, Anusara, and Viniyoga, place much emphasis on precise alignment, props, and physical assisting. Most Yoga teacher training programs focus on teaching interns about physical assists, which guide a student toward proper alignment.

Yet, many students attend classes where a Yoga instructor may not look at them for the entire class. Needless to say, there are no physical assists in these same classes. Why? Some teachers feel very uncomfortable physically adjusting their student’s posture. Some teachers are not trained to physically assist students during asana practice.

There is also another factor to be considered: There are Yoga teachers who will not get off their mats. They do not walk around and monitor the room after demonstrating. Sometimes, we refer to this teaching technique as: “Working the room.”

One may think of “working the room” as it is related to a social butterfly, who constantly works on public relations. Assisting is a bond between teacher and student. Physical adjustments, by a competent teacher, help any student to feel where he or she should be aligned, and to be present in that exact moment, while practicing asana.

However, if we are in Downward Dog, with our backs to our students, how will we know if their posture is correct? It is obvious that we cannot see if our students are in good or poor alignment when we turn our backs toward our students.

Granted, some teachers have exceptional cueing skills, but when we are tempted to take our eyes off our students, that is the time to work the room. There are other issues, in regard to assisting and adjusting. Be sure you have asked for permission before adjusting anyone.

Some students do not like to be assisted. If this is the case, there is no need to ask why. They may feel that an assist is an invasion of their space. In a case where a student wants to be left alone, there is no need to push the matter further.

Recently, a Hatha Yoga teacher told me that physical adjustments were highly over rated. Curious about what was on his mind – I asked him to explain. His opinion was that while teachers “tinker” with a few students, who have improper alignment, the rest are made to suffer by holding postures for minutes at a time.

While there is a ring of truth in the above-mentioned viewpoint, there is a reward of enhanced physical strength in holding postures beyond 20 seconds. There is also a method to avoid having students hold postures forever.

The method is to disguise repetition, by holding an asana for five breaths, on each side, and coming back to the same, or a much similar posture, later in the class. In this way, students are getting the most out of a Yoga training session.

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