Yoga teachers get the rare opportunity to help students build flexibility and strength, hone their mental health, and achieve their goals. Through yoga assists, coaches teach new poses and postures, help students move out of unsafe positions, and act as another set of eyes to help students improve. Assisting students during yoga is a big part of a yoga teacher’s job, and one can approach this aspect of teaching in several ways. We spoke with Cody coach Dylan Werner about his philosophy on teaching yoga assists vs. yoga adjustments. Here is this guidance he offered:
Yoga Assists vs. Yoga Adjustments or Corrections
When teaching assists, Werner starts with the intention behind the action. He does not use the term “yoga adjustment” or “correction” because the semantics shape the intention behind the action. He chooses the word “assist” because a teacher’s role is to help students further explore the practice of yoga, not to “fix” them.
“Chiropractors adjust,” Werner said. “Adjusting a student implies that there is something out of place and you are ‘fixing’ them…Correcting a student implies that the student is doing something wrong. If we only adjusted or corrected students, we would only give attention to the students who we feel are wrong or need to be fixed, and that the intention behind the adjustment is to fix them.”
He also added that “adjusting” or “correcting” students does not speak to students who are already strong and confident in their poses. Students who are doing poses safely and who are well aligned can still benefit from coaching. Teaching ‘assists’ rather than corrections or yoga adjustments encompass all of these coaching opportunities.
Tips for Teaching Yoga Assists
Assisting your students through different yoga poses is a great way to deepen their practice and help them get more out of class. Teaching assists should be done carefully to avoid making students uncomfortable or pushing them too hard. Werner shared the following tips to maximize your students’ benefit and comfort while teaching assists:
1. Assist the Student, Not the Pose
“First see the student, not the pose,” Werner explained. Rather than trying to fit a student into a pose, build the pose to accommodate the person; before doing an assist, look for ways you can help that person get more out of the pose, even if it means deviating from the standard pose. Help that person create a position in which they feel supported, and never force students into shapes that do not serve their body.
2. Have a Purpose Behind the Assist
Werner emphasized the importance of having a clear reason behind each assist. If your goal is to help your student achieve a deeper calf stretch or reduce tension in their spine, your assist should support that. The clearer the intention behind your assist, Werner said, the better your assist will be.
3. Yoga Triage
Surveying your class to see how each yogi is doing is key to performing assists. Missing students who need assists is easy, especially in large classes. Be sure to take a quick look at each student before addressing anyone. Then, in what Werner describes as “yoga triage,” first address students who may be in unsafe positions or look confused. Then, look for students who can benefit the most from an assist.
“Sometimes it’s the beginner student in class [who will benefit most from an assist], but often times it’s the more advanced students that are looking to deepen their practice. These students are usually the most appreciative of your assist and generally don’t get assisted often because teachers either think they don’t need help or are intimidated by their practice.”
Werner also surveys his class for students who are content in their poses but might need help focusing or could use a little attention. “Essentially,” he says, “make sure you survey everyone in your class and think about not only assisting beginning students, but how you can help advanced students deepen their practice.”
4. Do No Harm
A yoga teacher’s job is to create a safe place for students to practice and to ensure they are not harming their bodies during their practice. It is important not to harm students by pushing them too deep into a stretch during an assist.
“Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means ‘first, do no harm,’” Werner said. “This is part of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take. The idea is that it is better to do nothing than create further harm. The worst thing that I hear and the last thing you want a student to say is that their teacher injured them while assisting in a pose.”
Remembering to assist students slowly, move with their breath, and fit the shape to the person are three ways to ensure you are teaching assists safely, and not forcing anyone into a harmful position.
5. Take Different Body Types Into Account
Keeping your student’s body type in mind is important when teaching assists. Coaches should be able to modify your assist so they benefit the type of body you are assisting when helping your students try different yoga poses.
“How you assist a 100 lbs, 5’2” woman will be different than how you assist a 220 lbs, 6’5” man,” Werner said. “It is good to have a generic framework to work off of, but you need to know how to change your assists to make them work for your students’ unique bodies. The more students you assist and the more body types you help, the better you’ll get at this.”
Werner added that shaping your assists around a student’s body type takes practice. Taking the time to see how your students move with their given body type can help you understand the best way to serve their body with an assist.
As a yoga teacher, you have the opportunity to help students of all kinds explore different poses and hone their practice. For the latest yoga teacher tips and tricks from Cody, check out our “Teaching Tips” section on our blog. For more from Dylan Werner, check out his Vinyasa Evolution Plan and Fly Strong Bundle!