Assisting Guidelines

I had the big honor of assisting Tim in his Mysore room last week last week. Luckily, I've had plenty of time to think about how I believe assistants should serve in the Mysore after working with my own assistants for many years. So, I thought I would share some of my personal guidelines for assisting while it was fresh on my mind. These are some lessons that I’ve taught to my own assistants, as well as what I let guide me while assisting Tim.

First off, I tried to teach like I’ve learned from Tim. He always influences me, of course, but I do think it’s especially important to honor his teachings when I am teaching in his room. So I don’t go into his Mysore room and teach like anyone else. I just do my best to emulate Tim’s style and philosophy while still bringing myself.

I made sure to introduce myself to as many students as I could. I always ask students' names and try my hardest to remember them - I think this is important when working with someone for the first time. Even though I’ve been showing up at Tim’s to practice for almost a decade, not everyone knows me or has seen me before. This practice is intimate - I am going to be putting my hands on people and they are going to be putting their trust in me, and (in my opinion) an introduction is appropriate.

I always make an effort to remember every student’s name. Everyone likes to be seen, and forgetting names (or not making the effort to remember) is definitely not the best way to accomplish this. One of the reasons I initially felt connected to Tim is that he remembered my name the second time we met - eight months after first meeting. Not only did this make me feel seen, but it made me feel important. As such, I have tried my best to do the same.

I haven’t always been the best at remembering names, but I recognized the value in it early on and I trained my mind to remember them - just like I have trained my body to do a sun salutation. A lot of these things that are crucial to being a good teacher are learned skills that take practice, just like anything else! (I can help you - check out my mentorship program).

My method for this begins (of course) with asking the student their name. Then I repeat it back every time I greet, adjust, or talk to the student. I’m not shy about asking to be reminded if I forget names. I also check the roster after class so I can visually see it written there. When students walk out of my room at the end of practice, I say, “See you tomorrow,” with their name. This is a great opportunity to let the student know that, 1) I care about them enough to make a note of their name, and 2) I’m expecting to see them again tomorrow - and then, they usually show up! Try it, it works! Often, when teaching in communities other than my own (workshops, for instance), I’ll ask the students to make name tags and stick them on the corner of their mat.

When I go to adjust a student I check in with them to see what they like, what works for them, and if what I am doing to them is okay. I like to give people the opportunity for an out if they want it, especially when I’m still developing trust with them. So I say things like, “Is this okay?” Or “Do you want some support on that asana?” I like to leave the choice in the students’ hands, and it’s up to them whether they’re receptive or not. Some people aren’t going to want a stranger touching them, and that’s okay! Just let it go, and give the relationship time to build. You’ll figure out if they want your help over time. And you really can always ask just to be sure.

If a student takes me up on the offer of an adjustment, I might ask them what they’re looking for or what they like from adjustments. When you don’t know a student’s practice well, it’s important to trust them. If someone says it hurts, believe them. If the student likes something a certain way, trust that they have figured this out through experience.

I think one thing that can be difficult in the role as an assistant is to remember that you are assisting! It’s not about you - it’s about supporting the primary teacher and the students. You can make suggestions or say something like, “Do you want to try it this way?,” but don’t force anything. It’s just not worth it. You could do physical damage if you’re wrong, but, more than that, you aren’t going to be nurturing a supportive relationship.

Smile. Really. This lightens the mood and makes you seem approachable.

There is a delicate balance with working with students whose practices you don’t know well. Teachers tend to want to give - information, support, adjustments. But relationships take time to build, and you don’t want to bulldoze anyone’s practice who isn’t your student (and even then...). It’s important to avoid making too many assumptions about anyone’s practice initially. You have the opportunity to look for patterns and go deeper when you’re working with someone on a regular basis, but it’s important in the beginning not to assume too much about someone’s practice, but rather to offer help in a graceful and supportive way. 

Assisting can be a great way to get to know your yoga community in a different way, and it can be amazing experience to learn from your teacher and to learn about yourself as a teacher and practitioner in new ways.

Show up, be open, and help your fellow students and teachers. That’s what assisting is about - you can do it, and you can learn, and you can grow. And that’s what we’re all here for.


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