January 25, 2013

I Want Your Hands on Me: the Case for Awesome Yoga Assists. ~ Jill Abelson

Touching, feeling, aligning and adjusting puts you on the path of becoming a more effective yoga instructor.

With recent news articles highlighting the rise and risks of injuries in yoga classes, and alarming facts designed to instill fear and dread into the hearts of devoted yoga teachers and their students, skillful and attentive hands-on assisting is more important than ever.

Whereas most articles on yoga adjustments are hesitant, watered down or overly technical, the fact is yoga students are crazy for hands-on attention. They want teachers’ hands on them, and usually beg for more.

The litany of benefits: hands-on adjustments prevent injury, ensure safety and encourage proper alignment. They remove physical, energetic, emotional or other blockages students might face during class. Awesome, skillful assists take them deeper into poses than they may have gone before, helping them “cross over”—if you will—to the other side. Not to mention, owing to the lack of touch in daily life, being assisted in a yoga class simply feels great.

So why on earth do teachers shy away from touch during class?

Most want to assist more, but just lack the confidence or training. It may also reflect their lineage, personal philosophy or comfort level. When my own teachers come near me, here’s the God’s-honest truth: I practically shiver with anticipation.

I love assisting. To me, it’s the ultimate in non-verbal communication. I’ve trained with phenomenal teachers, and now the art of the assist has become one of my biggest areas of focus. I recently wrote my second book about hands-on assists, Extra Love Volume Two. Here are some tips, dear yogis, you won’t find in the book.

Top five Tips for Assisting

1. Make a List

Every time you receive a fantastic touch in yoga class, go home and write it down. Note the pose, who gave you the assist (teacher, assistant, angel?), what they did and how you felt afterward. Title the list, “Assists Log,” and refer back to it as your practice and teaching develops.

2. Develop Your Superpowers

Yoga is meant to facilitate the flow of energy or prana in the body, so it’s important to know how energy moves. Review lines of energy for the poses you teach. Study up on yoga anatomy and the subtle body (chakras, nadis, bandhas). This insight will help you read students’ bodies from the “inside out,” giving you rare and special superpowers.

3. Individualize Your Approach

No two bodies are alike. Artful assists calibrate for body types, gender, level of practice, and student needs on any given day. Kripalu Yoga teachers are trained to offer six different types of assists, ranging from a light press point to a manual assist to no assist at all (That’s fine! Stay there!). Get some training to build your skills. Chances are, if you know what you’re doing, your students will be safer than if you leave it up to chance.

4. Stay in the Zone

Students bring stories and needs into the classroom, and may unconsciously look to you for resolution. You might receive an unspoken emotional download from your students, expressed as stress, sadness, fear or even a flat-out sexual charge. I always remind teachers to embody—to the letter—brahmacharya. This mindset or mental “zone” helps you keep a safe, professional boundary around students’ energy… and yours. Get in close, but don’t let the boundaries blur.

5. Make Friends with Sweat and Half-Naked Bodies

If you’re teaching or assisting in a heated vinyasa-type class, learn to love sweat and (if you don’t already) half-naked bodies. I’ve taught and assisted all over the U.S., with the sweatiest and largest classes being in San Francisco. You may only have two fingertips and a dry towel to assist a sweaty male student in a speedo, but fear not—it can be done! And typically, guys are more receptive to assists and adjustments focusing on alignment and outer musculature.


Jill Abelson is a yoga instructor, teacher trainer and workshop presenter renowned for expertise in the art of hands-on assists. Her 13 years of teaching spans both coasts, as well as training and workshops around the country, most recently in Washington, DC, Richmond, VA, Chapel Hill, NC, New York City and the San Francisco Bay area. Registered with the Yoga Alliance (500 E-RYT) Jill is an Advanced Certified Jivamukti Yoga teacher with over 1,000 hours of professional training in Jivamukti alone, as well as extensive training in other lineages: Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Kripalu Yoga. In 2007, she was recognized by Yoga Journal as one of the “Five Yogis Changing the World.” You can find Jill at her website Yoga of Liberation, and her books are available on Amazon.

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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Asst. Editor: Wendy Keslick

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