When we graduate from our first 200 hour teacher training, often there is so much we’ve learned, it’s hard to put it all into practice. Depending on the teacher training program you took, you might not have received a great deal of education about assisting students in your classes. Also, you might feel concerned about assisting because you’re still learning anatomy and don’t quite yet understand how all the pieces fit together when it comes to applying anatomy to teaching.
Does this mean you should avoid assisting your students? Is assisting just for teachers who have expert knowledge in anatomy?
I wanted to dive into this topic today because it’s one that often comes up when teachers get together to talk about teaching experiences. In many of my anatomy workshops, teachers ask questions not only about how to assist but if you should assist a student in class. Let’s start our discussion here with a framework; this framework assumes that you have the student’s permission to assist. This can be a tricky topic because how you receive the student’s permission can be its own topic. I would suggest that you let the class know beforehand that you or your assistant (if you have one) will be assisting during class and if they do not wish to be assisted, to just let you know when you come by (we can dive into that aspect of this discussion later in a future post).
Let’s start out with a few definitions of types of assists that you can provide:
- Restorative (I used to call this “deepening” but do not anymore because I do not recommend you deepen a pose by pushing hard on a student)
What are the definitions of each type of assist?
- Instructive assists help the student know what to do
- Directive assists bring the anatomy to life and reinforce key anatomical actions
- Restorative assists are focused on massage/myofascial release using your hands as the tools (versus a foam roller or myofascial release ball)
So, if you’re a still learning anatomy, how can you still provide meaningful assists?
By focusing your assisting on:
- The key actions of the pose
- The alignment of the pose
Keep in mind that what many teachers know is the alignment without necessarily knowing all the anatomy involved. Think of “alignment” as the “shape” of the pose and the anatomy as what makes the shape happen. So, in Warrior 1, the front knee should stack over the heel (alignment) and the related anatomy is that when the knee goes past the heel, it’s possible that the patellar tendon pulls a bit on the kneecap because of the insertion of all the muscles of the quadriceps inserting in that one spot.
When you know the key actions of the pose you can provide assists that reinforce those actions. And, if you approach your assisting with instructive and directive assisting in mind, you’ll avoid overdoing it and potentially hurting a student.
Think of each pose with this question in mind:
What is the point of this posture?
Of course, there might be several points of the posture; Downward Dog has a spine lengthening as well as hamstring lengthening aspect to it. But pick one and reinforce that.
There is much more to assisting than just knowing anatomy, alignment and key actions. But, if you’d like a place to start, starting from what’s described here can give you a framework for starting to approach your students.
Another tool that might help is to refer to my anatomy manual. The manual outlines each key pose and provides you with the following criteria:
- Primary action
- Key actions
- Key muscles in action
- Key joints in action
- Things to look for as a teacher/anatomy challenges
- Speaking to mind/spirit/attitude
This 200 page spiral bound guide also has an entire section on assisting. It provides a comprehensive review as well of muscles, bones and joints. You can read about it here.
If you’d like this $65 manual, I’m happy to offer it to you with a $15 discount. Just send me an email to order.
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below!