On Assisting

Smoothie bowl. Pretty standard.

I like assisting yoga.

I’m halfway through my required 15 hours of hands-on assisting and (in the least creepy way possible) I really enjoy touching people.

It’s kind of weird considering a few short years ago I didn’t even want to be hugged much less sweat all over by dirty strangers. But this yoga thing never ceases to amaze, as we know.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you there’s something so powerful about physical touch, and I’m not even talking in a romantic way. In a world where we text more frequently than we call, wave more frequently than we hug and stalk photo albums more frequently than we stop by to say hey, there is something to be said about actual hand-to-human-body contact.

Triangle Mitch-Mitch

It’s no surprise that I love receiving a good assist in yoga. In fact, I am referred to as the “assist whore” in teacher training because I volunteer to be the demo dummy all too enthusiastically… every single time.

Ridiculous.

That I would so enjoy giving assists as well came as a pleasant surprise. I mean, it’s sweaty in there. (So sweaty.) I had my doubts. Turns out, the potential gross factor doesn’t even cross my mind. In fact, I equate touching sweaty yoga bodies to the way gynecologists must feel about vaginas. Indifferent.

(You’re welcome for that.)

That might be the wrong analogy. And indifferent is definitely inaccurate. I actually feel great touching sweaty yoga bodies. (I will assume gynecologists feel great about vaginas sometimes, too.)

There are lots of different kinds of assists:

  • The “You’re Doing This Completely Wrong So I’m Going to Fix You, You’re Welcome” Assist
  • The “You’re Doing This Completely Right and I’m Going to Take You Deeper, You’re Welcome” Assist
  • The “It Is Physically Impossible for You to Get in This Pose Alone So I Will Cram You in It Now, You’re Welcome” Assist (See also: supta kurmasana)
  • The “I Kind of Just Need Some Practice and You are My Guinea Pig, Thank You” Assist

But there’s only one way to receive one:

Just take it and trust.

Trust that we will not drop you. Trust that if we do drop you you’ll be fine. Trust that, yes, you can and, no, we’re not kidding. (My foot goes where?? … Correct.)

Most surprising, I think, was the realization that assisting is not as easy as it looks (or feels). We’ve spent a solid six weeks in training just learning how to approach your mat without knocking you over, how to not look you in the eye (because it’s weird), how to touch you without violating you, how to be firm (because a light touch is creepy), how to hold a man twice our size, how to ground you and lift you and show you how far you can go and walk away without you even knowing we were there.

I love it.

It’s a delicate thing to step onto something so private (and to some so sacred) a space as a yoga mat and get all up in someone’s business. Yoga is, after all, largely a solitary practice. But offered lovingly and accepted gratefully, an artfully delivered assist can be just what you need to go deeper into your own practice.

Plus, it feels good as hell.

21 thoughts on “On Assisting

  1. You forgot the: “Your fat stomach is in the way, so I’ll move it and now you can get into the pose. You’re welcome.”

    This is my favorite because it makes me more flexible and teaches me humility.

  2. This is one of the things I love about a good yoga teacher! They help each and every single one (not just the really bad ones or the really really good ones) and it feels good. And yes, I used to be a person who did NOT want to be touched by strangers and who used to even find being in bigger groups pretty much gross. Yoga is different. And thank you for saying that it’s not gross to touch sweaty people. Because that’s something that often crosses my mind when I am being assisted.

  3. After not having anything to say in previous post, today’s was full of wisdom! So glad you decided to continue. I love the openness you bring to this blog. Continue.

  4. LOVE this post! I thought I was alone in craving sweaty assists haha–whenever the teacher even walks by me in class, I always get so excited! I honestly can remember every single assist that any teacher has ever given me–they are so meaningful! And afterwards, that pose is never the same…it always feels way more open. I bet you’re gonna be an awesome teacher :)

  5. I have never posted before, but this is why you must continue to blog. Besides being hilars!,the realness as well as depth you reach in a lot of your posts is a welcomed breath of fresh air. And lets be honest, the cats!

  6. I LOVE getting assisted, but only if the instructor has a gentle touch and isn’t forcing me into the posture. If they just put me deeper into the pose or move me slightly in order to properly be in the pose, then it’s one of the best feelings ever.

    Also, that pose reaffirms my fears and apprehensions about Ashtanga. I reeeally want to try the primary series, but the poses look way more advanced than I’m used to.

    • Ok, I have to respond to this too because I was totally in the same boat as you not long ago. I LOVE ashtanga now but a year ago it terrified me. I am not naturally flexible and the first time I went I was really nervous and yeah- I couldn’t do many of the poses. And now? Well, my practice has definitely evolved but there are still many poses that in the primary series that I can’t even get close to the full expression. Kurmasana being one of them. ;) See if you can find a studio that has led classes (instead of mysore style). I think led classes to start ashtanga are nice because it feels like a regular vinyasa class (x100 gallons of sweat). It’s also a good way to start memorizing the series. Do it! It’s an amazing practice.

      • Thank you! I think my studio may have an Ashtanga class, but if not I’ll look into other studios in the area. I really do want to try as many types of yoga as I can, and Ashtanga is one of the few that I haven’t even attempted. But you’re right – when I first started yoga I had no idea what I was doing and I could barely get into any of the pose; mastering the poses comes slowly over time.

  7. I love assisting and I love being assisted. I feel like a little kid during classes whenever the teacher walks by- “assist me. assist meeee. assist ME!” I think my chronic bitch face makes some teachers think I don’t want to be assisted but I so do.

    AND I love assisting, I’ve been teaching for a few months but I still need to assist two more classes before I can put that RYT behind my name. I know all TT programs are different and sometimes it’s hard to find the time to assist classes but I am really glad it was required for my program. There’s something about JUST assisting, instead of teaching and assisting. You can look around the room and see who needs a little something. It’s so fun! Except when I knock people over. Still working on that. Damn balancing poses.

  8. Holy yes! Assisting was one of my favorite portions of my teacher training too and it completely surprised me because I generally don’t like to be touched. But it is SO good and makes every pose so much more scrumptious.

  9. It’s posts like these that I love so much and I can’t even imagine that you’ll ever stop blogging forever. Take a break if you need it, but please come back!

  10. I love being assisted in class! I tend to take classes regularly with teachers who assist. All of the above mentioned assists are welcome in my book!

  11. Love me some assists. I’ll admit, at first it made me feel uncomfortable. But the more and more I practice the more and more I want someone to fine-tune what my body is doing because it can be pretty wonky sometimes.

  12. I love getting assists but some girl who was sexually assaulted blogged about how she wants to sue her yoga studio/teacher for assisting without asking permission. I understand that her circumstances make her feel uncomfortable with touches, but it’s sort of like going to a dentist and having your dentist ask permission if it’s okay to drill. Plus, isn’t yoga all about letting go and all that good stuff? Anyway, go forth and assist. It makes me feel so happy when I’m assisted.

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