10 Ways to Be a Good Yoga Teaching Assistant

Kasia Litwinski
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Ever been in class and received a really nice Savasana massage? Better yet, has anyone ever supported you through a difficult balancing pose, like Half Moon? Often in a yoga class, it is the teacher catching you before you fall, but sometimes studios and their classes become so large or popular.
 
Assisting is an art that appears far easier on the outside than what the role actually is. The role of an assistant is to solidify the foundation of the class, and ensures that the central theme of empowerment is truly embedded in the experience.
 
A yoga assistant will pass by each individual in the class, doing 1-2 assists and then moving on to the next person. Yoga assistants are not there to do the pose for you, but to simply help you see what possibilities are available to you.
 

From a newly appointed yoga assistant, here is a list of 10 ways to be an empowering assistant in any yoga class:

 

1. Be of Service:

 
As a yoga teaching assistant, you need to be present and aware. Assistants take a stand for the student in need of support in that moment. This is often exemplified by yoga assistants who help students through a pose. It is the assistants who ensure that the safe space that is created within the yoga practice is upheld throughout the session. While the teacher creates a safe space in the class, maintaining this safe space is heavily dependent on a support system, and this is the most fundamental responsibility of the empowering assistant.
 

2. Hello-Assist-Goodbye:

 
Your hello-assist-goodbye needs to be done with confidence and in a ninja style – and by that, I mean that the student should not even notice that you came, assisted, and left. Your impact should be present yet subtle. The assistant shows the student what is possible in their body through nonverbal communication, and allows for the student to feel confident enough to try something new.
 

3. Discover with Curiosity and Adaptability:

 
It can be tricky, but as an assistant, try different approaches to “assisting” with every person you lend your empowerment to. There are numerous ways to facilitate difficult poses, and people struggle to varying aspects with many poses. Not everyone faces the same challenges, so try to cater your help to the individual. Also, remember that it is crucial to assist to what the teacher is speaking to.
 

4. Use Clear Communication:

 
In a yoga class, we communicate nonverbally, using deep, audible breathing. As an assistant, you are a leader, and your energy is communicated to the students who surround you. When you are assisting, make sure the student understands what the assist is helping to do. For example, if an assistant taps your shoulder during crescent moon pose, they are guiding you to roll your shoulder back and down.
 
The goal is to not use words at all, and to simply use your touch. You must remember to have clean energy and to leave any negative vibes at the door. You are there to help the students, and to make connections. Your personal issues should remain outside of the safe space created within the practice.
 

5. Model Compassion and Vulnerability:

 
Being an empowering leader means having constant, emanating positive energy, and mindful eye contact. You are in an atmosphere of no judgments, and it is your role to maintain this atmosphere to the best of your ability. Yoga teaching assistants are not fixers, or handymen of the practice. Rather, they are elements of a foundational support system that makes everyone feel safe, and in the right place, regardless of how awkward some poses may feel when trying them for the first time.
 

 

6. Assist to True North:

 
Here is the breakdown of True North:
1. Ground down like earth
2. Flow like water
3. Build an inner fire
4. Soften like air
5. Create space for something new
 
True North alignment is key when you are assisting. Standing in Tadasana helps you feel powerful: feet grounded to the earth, connecting us to our core, gut, instinct – the source of where we make our decisions – and the crown of our head reaching to the Heavens, connecting us to our heart. Start from this place when you begin your assisting, and keep this alignment in mind as you make your assists.
 

7. Presence, Presence, Presence!

 
As a student, sometimes it can be tough to be in the moment during class. The same goes for an assistant, but you also have different responsibilities. You must remember to leave your agenda at the door and be there for the class. This ranges from breathing in sequence, to being a yes, or even providing feedback after class that can help an individual. It is ever important to remain in the now as a yoga teaching assistant.
 

8. Global Awareness:

 
While walking around the class and helping students, you have to be mindful of what is on the floor. Often during a class, as you walk across the room, you will find water bottles, towels, sweaters, keys on the floor – the list can go on and on. Being aware also means to be mindful of what each individual student needs – are there any brand new beginners, pregnant students, or any injuries to be aware of?
 

9. Eight Types of Touch:

When assisting a yoga class, there are 8 types of touch:
 
1. Investigative:
This type of touch helps students become aware of what is going on in their body. An example is fingers gently pressing the abs to remind the student to engage their core.

2. Directive:
You are directing the body into the correct alignment. You are physically showing the student what to do. For instance, in Downward Dog, tapping the feet to move in or out.

3. Awakening:
You are waking the body up like spiraling the pinky fingers inward in Warrior 1.

4. Deepening:
You are allowing for the body to have a deeper stretch. This happens in poses like Forward Fold, where you are allowing the body to enter a longer stretch.

5. Stabilizing:
This type of touch gives grounding in the four corners in the hands and feet. The balancing series sees a lot of these types of assists in poses such as Eagle or Tree Pose.

6.Adjusting:
As an assistant you are changing the foundation and helping to create a shift. An example would be lengthening the top arm skyward and then back in line with the torso and bottom arm in Triangle Pose.

7. Calming:
Here, your breath is supportive and you are helping the student in times of need, like giving a gentle massage in Child’s Pose, Half Pigeon, or Savasana.

8. Supportive:
You are supporting the entire class with breath, eye contact, and smiles.
 

10. Your Asana is Tadasana:

 
There are many ways to assist for the various poses in yoga. Sometimes it can get overwhelming to remember them all – but when in doubt, just stand in your True North, and carry on with breath. Something will come to mind! Not everything will be brilliant, but something always will. ☺
 
These 10 ways are a good foundation for assisting a yoga class. It can be an empowering feeling to support someone during headstand, or showing someone that they do have the power to do bridge. It is also a great way to socialize and get to know other people in your yoga community! Get out there, have fun, and be proud of what you’ve accomplished and the difference you are making by being a yoga teaching assistant.
 
Questions, comments, or concerns for your own yoga teaching assistance? Please leave them in the comments below!
 

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Kasia Litwinski

Kasia is a corporate gal who loves to hop into Crow Pose as soon as she gets off work and onto her yoga mat. She especially loves hot vinyasa yoga. With a background in Political Science and Communications, Catherine loves to be loud and uses quotes for advice. Take for example: “Let your love be so big and pure that it shifts the energy in the room.”

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