Providing hands-on assists in yoga classes can really change your students’ experience…for better or worse.
While there are certainly many pros and cons to providing hands-on assists in yoga classes, it’s important to remember that if you’re going to offer them- then you better be offering them well.
Look, in order to really improve your hands-on assists and adjustments, it’s best to look for a workshop near you. Because physically practicing them is going to do a whole lot more good than only reading. However, starting with this post is a great jumping off point to master the art of hands-on assists.
This post will provide a round up of my top 15 tips on how to improve your hands-on adjustments and assists in yoga classes. For more methods on improving your teaching, make sure to check out my online 100 hour yoga teacher training course.
Don’t forget that if you’re new to adjusting and assisting, my Partner Yoga series is a great way to practice with your bestie, your spouse, or your fellow yoga teachers. It’s also available on my app.
How To Improve Hands-On Assists In Yoga Classes
Let’s be real, it’s all too often that yoga teachers who are providing hands-on touch in their classes can often use a little work.
It’s a true art form to be able to offer hands-on adjustments with ease, confidence, and knowledge of the poses. Which can be really intimidating to step into as a teacher.
The good news is that (like yoga itself), the more you practice your hands-on assists, the better you’ll become at giving them.
Practice On Friends Before Students
First and foremost, make sure that the first time you’re providing hands-on assists is not actually to your students. You don’t want them to be your guinea pigs with something like this, okay? Trust me.
You can practice with friends, family, or fellow yoga teachers. These are all people you trust, and who trust you. Which means the flow of communication will be easier than it might be with a student. When you practice with your loved ones, they’re able to tell you to stop or go deeper with more comfort than someone who doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, or who doesn’t want to speak up in a class.
This is why practicing my Partner Yoga series is a great way to get comfortable with a variety of assists and adjustments.
Understand Alignment & Anatomy
Make sure that you have a solid understanding of alignment and anatomy before you even consider touching your students in the posture. This is vital. Because it will help you understand which part of the body to stabilize. And which part of the body needs to move.
Start With Private Clients
Taking your new skill of hands-on assists into your private client classes will feel a whole lot more accessible to you as a teacher, rather than trying it out on a big group of people.
If you don’t have any private clients, then try it on your smallest classes first. The less bodies there are, the easier it feels to incorporate a new element in your classes.
Always Ask For Consent
When the time comes that you’re ready to provide hands-on assists in your classes, then you have to ask for consent first. Always. No matter what.
Yes, you might have a brain fart and forget- which isn’t the end of the world. Yoga teachers are human, which means we make mistakes. However, do your best to ingrain this consent into your classes so that the chance of you forgetting to ask is slim to none.
There is truly nothing worse than feeling a yoga teacher come in to touch you with uncertainty. It will make your students feel super unsafe. And likely even clam up, if they feel like you don’t know what you’re doing.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get nervous, because nerves aren’t a bad thing…they mean you care! It just means not to let these nerves show, so that your students feel safe and held in your presence as a leader.
Cue The Breath
Cueing the breath for your student before you adjust them is especially helpful when you’re adjusting them deeper into a shape on an exhalation.
Have you ever had a teacher come over and press on you when you’re on an inhale, and you feel kind of like a squeaky toy getting all the air pressed out of it? Yeah, it’s not nice.
All you need to do is softly say, “breathe in,” or, “take an inhale,” and then as they exhale you can take them into the depth of the adjustment.
Firm Touch Only
No creepy fingers! Even if you love getting tickles from your partner, I can promise you that your students are not going to like any kind of tickling sensation when it comes to hands-on assists.
This means when you’re using your entire hand to assist, you come in firmly with more of the palm than you do the fingers. If you’re adjusting with just one pointer finger (which can actually be extremely effective in some situations), let that be assertive and firm, rather than loose and tickly.
Always Stabilize First
Regardless of what yoga pose you’re adjusting, you’ll want to make sure you’re stabilizing your student first. Again, with your solid understanding of anatomy and alignment, you’ll know where and when to stabilize.
Stabilization is especially important when there’s any element of balance to the posture, which is every pose other than grounded positions.
Feel For Their Breath
Once your hands are on them, make sure to feel for their breath. First of all, you’ll want to make sure that they are breathing. Because sometimes if they’re super deep in the pose, they might hold their breath altogether.
Second of all, feeling for their breath will help you to understand their comfort levels. And if you might need to back off.
Work On Your Cues
Don’t even consider adding in hands-on assists in your classes yet if you don’t feel super confident with your ability to cue.
Even as you’re physically adjusting one student, you’ll still need to be cueing to the entire class. Plus, your cues should be strong enough that you don’t need to put your hands on someone, because they can make the adjustments themselves based on your words.
Don’t forget that even though you’re leading an entire group, you can still communicate directly with the student you’re adjusting. This means you can cue to the group loudly, but ask a direct question to the student more softly.
Direct communication is important if you need clarity from the student by asking, “is that okay?” Or, “Do you want more weight?”
Listen To Their Body
As yoga teachers, we know that the body speaks, right? While we have the most fluency of the body’s language within our own bodies, it’s also possible to pick up whispers from other people’s bodies, as well.
Pay attention to the body language of your students before, during, and after you adjust them. Notice if their body is tensing up as you press, or if it softens and relaxes. Notice if it shakes. And notice if it feels unstable in some ways.
Again, direct verbal communication is best for absolute clarity. But working on listening to the body is another skill to help refine your hands-on assisted practice.
Always Adjust Both Sides
Unless you’re assisting a pose like Child’s Pose, Low Cobra, or Downward Facing Dog that doesn’t have a “side” to them- then you always need to adjust both sides.
This means every time you adjust a lunge, twist, standing balance, so on and so forth- you need to make sure to get to the same students on both sides to make sure they feel even.
Know When To Release
It’s important to know when to release your hands-on assists with your students by keeping up with the pace and cadence of your class, while also tuning into those specific students’ needs.
Remember, work on listening to your students’ body language, while also practicing direct communication with the person you’re touching in order to know exactly when to release.
Know How To Release
Like any yoga pose, it’s just as important to know how to get into it, as it is to get out of it. Remember how you need to stabilize first? Well, that’s also important as you’re letting go of them.
Stabilization at the beginning should prevent falling when you’re coming out of it. But in some positions you might also need to add softer verbal cues to the student you’re adjusting so that they’re ready for the release.
Saying something like, “press slightly forward, I’m about to release.” Or, “plug into your big toes, I’m going to step away,” can prevent them from falling out when you walk away.
So, what do you think, my friends…which tip has been the most helpful for you as you master the art of assisting in your yoga classes?
Let me know in the comments!
For more improvement on your teaching, check out my online 100 hour course.