Reflections on hands-on assists, by Shira Hess

I love giving hands-on assists when I teach and am always looking to refine my approach and technique; I swallow books about it. As I mostly self-practice these days, I recently I treated myself to a private with Stillpoint Yoga London. I find Ashtanga teachers give the best adjusts and I wanted someone assist me, so I can feel it on my body as a way to develop my skill. It was heavenly.

‘Start with where you are’, Scott said. ‘That is the first thing about hands-on assists. And I smiled and said, I thought it was about where the student is. ‘But you need to have your grounding to know where to take them; you need to be rooted’. Loved that. Needed to hear that. Especially now as I have created a change in my life, and am entering something a little bit unknown. I need to re-find my roots.

He pointed out how I collapse into the shoulders in dog, and by refining bandhas work my spine literally lengthened by a couple of inches around the mid thoracic; so hard to reach that spot. Even the simple lift to urdva hastanasa (palms touch above head) with the arms relaxed, fluidly lifting up, was like a new pose. Softer but so much deeper into the core. Sounds simple; to be softer, effortless, lighter; qualities that take years of conscious practice to master. Soft but with a structure within which prana is fluid.

It reminded me of a dance class I took recently, my first ever, and not really dance, more like movement (at the lovely Independent Dance), and Giovanni said that if you ground one part of the body, you release and free the rest. And we tried it in threes, where someone might have sat on your chest, holding it down (sounds worse that it is), and the other person was moving your legs to release into the hips and thighs. It was so true. It’s the same with assisting someone in a yoga. You become their foundation, you remind them with a firm but gentle hand on the sacrum maybe, or pressing their feet or hands down, to ground. Scott said, ‘you want be their mula (root)’, you want to anchor them. So true.

So obvious. But I sometime skip this part; skip checking-in consciously with myself before I look at the people in class. So keen I am to meet the practitioner on their terms, that I look outwards first; too soon. This is what I am working on an energetic level. Physically, in today’s self-practice it meant less inversions; more forward folds; the titibasana variations.

I started with wanting to work on my assists, on how I physically give to others. I ended up working on looking inwards. As always, yoga shifts the focus inside. I experience it as if for the first time.

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