A great hands-on assist can make all the difference to a yoga student. It can be a communication tool for the kinaesthetic learners, it can give a relaxation to held tension and it can help students to have more awareness of their proprioception and alignment. But what if we want to assist without touch?
Some people don’t want to be touched, for various reasons. For example if a student is home with a baby attached to her all day, hands-on touch might be the last thing she wants. Another student may feel that touch is distracting.
Beginner students may feel strange about being in a new class. Sometimes students are ticklish or they just don’t know the teacher well enough to feel comfortable with an assist. These are all great reasons to use consent cards, so that students can decide.
There are also times when students would love to receive touch, but the teacher is not up for giving hands-on assists. For example a teacher can be feeling out of balance and low in energy due to illness or a full schedule.
Sometimes a teacher is so busy watching the safety of an advanced pose that they don’t have time to assist, or they are leading a quick flow class that has everyone moving so fast they find it hard to connect. Just like every yoga class we take is unique, every instructor has unique teaching experiences too.
Other Reasons to Assist Without Touch:
- Student feels resistant or uncomfortable
- Tension increases during assist,
instead of student “sinking into a pose”
- Student indicates not wanting assists
- Any pain or discomfort for student or teacher
- New yoga student who is already sensitive about being new
- Teacher’s attention is needed for the entire class
- Student or teacher feeling rushed, tense, or out of breath
- Recipient of assist moves out of a pose quickly
- Student had a previous assist that caused injury or discomfort
- Recent or triggered trauma
When our intuition or our instincts tell us to assist without touch we still want our students to feel attended to. I have come up with a list of how I assist without touch. Feel free to add your points in the comments below.
Five Ways to Assist Without Touch
Our audible breath offers an assist. Students hear teachers breathing and mimic us. When our breath is calm and lengthened, our students will feel the intention we are giving as we walk around the room.
Blocks, bolsters, and straps are the props we typically turn to. Don’t forget the wall, chairs, cushions, blankets, balls, sandbags, and sometimes other students. These objects provide a type of feedback to the body.
Partnering is especially helpful when we know our students, as some new yogis find partnering adds stress to the class experience. Partner yoga poses can give the benefits of hands-on assists in a situation where students are open to touch, but the instructor doesn’t have enough time to get to everyone.
We show yoga poses all the time, and this is a type of assist. We can show the entire class a pose at the front of the room or we can quietly move next to a student who looks puzzled and show the pose to bring clarity and understanding.
4. Verbal Cues
The words that we use when describing a pose, or a feeling that we would like to convey in the pose can be very powerful. For example, in relaxation pose: “Relax your entire body, imagine you are on a warm beach and the sand is contouring to your body and giving you all the support you need”.
5. Self-Directed Assists
Hands-on assists that students can do for/to their own body in a pose. I’ve incorporated this into yoga from my Thai Yoga Massage trainings. We try out certain massage techniques on ourselves, so I started incorporating a similar approach into postural assists. It can be as simple as asking students to massage their hamstring muscles before a seated forward fold. “Touching ourselves” can bring up an awkward feeling for some students, but it’s a wonderful way to encourage people out of their comfort zone, taking one more little action step toward self-love.
Every yoga style approaches hands-on assists uniquely. No matter what the style, hands-on assists are intimate, so they can cause discomfort or bring up a lack of confidence for both new and experienced students or teachers.
Whether offered with or without touch, assisting is an art form that all yoga teachers can learn with practice.