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The Gift of Assisting

Even if you are already teaching your own classes, learning to assist a senior teacher can be one of the most valuable learning opportunities you will ever have.

By Tony Briggs

When you show up for class—at least five to 10 minutes early—start by making sure the room is clean and tidy. Try dust-mopping the floor or folding blankets neatly to center yourself. Introduce yourself to the students in the classroom, noting the beginning students and any students with injuries, serious limitations, or physical conditions such as pregnancy. Pass this information along to the teacher, who will need to pay special attention to these students.

During class, take a position at a distance from the teacher so you avoid getting in her way. Move around, so that many students get your attention and assistance. Try to keep the larger view of the room in mind. Even when you're working with an individual student, you'll want to be aware of what's happening around you.

In a sense, you will need to be a model student for the class. Your behavior will be watched and imitated by others. So be careful not to distract the students, and do participate in the larger flow of the class. When the teacher asks the class to come and watch something, stop whatever you're doing and watch the demonstration. Stand behind the students so they can all see what's happening.

In order to deepen your own understanding of how sequencing works, watch closely as the teacher leads the class from one pose to the next. Try to get a sense of where the sequence might be headed and anticipate the next pose. You should also look for the thread of the teacher's theme for that class—what is she emphasizing? Why has she explained one thing before the next? What pace and rhythm has she set? Deepening your understanding of her teaching will not only help you learn but will also help you harmonize your assisting with the teacher's sequencing, theme, and pacing.

When you're ready to make an adjustment, first anticipate the specific action to be done in the pose, and then reinforce the teacher's theme with your adjustment. There are many ways to adjust a pose, so pick the way that matches the larger purpose of the class. Make only one adjustment at a time—giving several adjustments at once can confuse your student. Your adjustment should communicate a clear intention and purpose, and it should be definite and firm. If you need to give instructions or ask questions, do so clearly and directly. Avoid idle chatter.

As you adjust, watch your student's eyes and breath, and remind him to breathe and soften his eyes. Really see the student—what experience is he having? How can you support that experience? Your goal is to aid his learning by helping him succeed in the pose and by keeping him from giving in to his fears or frustrations too soon. Encourage him to do his best and to try whatever the teacher is requesting (unless he is working with a specific injury). As you assist, don't rob your student of his own experience—let him struggle with the pose a little. One of the most important things you can do is help your student find a middle way, since overdoing and under-doing are both harmful. Above all, don't insist—ultimately the student should make his own decisions about his practice.

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Reader Comments

Helen Antignani

Thank you Tony, that's really helped to guide and reassure me as I embark on assisting classes in my teacher-training course. I'm clearer now about the role I'll be playing. Thanks again, I will share with my fellow trainees.

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