God, these creepy yoga teachers always want to touch you, and it’s so weird, right? Well, I used to think that way too. I’ve received plenty of bad assists in my time, and I think it traumatized me a little. There’s nothing more unpleasant than being touched by a 20 year old dude that smells like he spent the night in a dump truck full of rotting cheese, garlic, and weed with a dash of tea tree oil because essential oils are so healthy ya’ll! Don’t get me started on the countless times someone has painfully jabbed their fingers directly into my vertebrae, and they kept pressing harder and harder because it feels so good right? RIGHT?!
A few years ago I went to a class where an instructor had the class practice kicking up into headstand. I am unable to kick up very far, and the teacher came up behind me, grabbed my ankles, and pulled me upside down. Some people might find this exhilarating, but I felt like I was being pulled apart. I was terrified, and my whole body was shaking. I had this complete body disconnect, disassociated from my body completely, and went limp. Unexpectedly taking all of my weight, she got a kick to the chest. I was completely embarrassed, and the look of “WTF is wrong with you” on her face turned me off from ever trying to get upside down again.
When I started yoga teacher training, this was a huge hurdle for me to overcome. I had a hard time being comfortable and confident touching other people because in my mind touching meant I could hurt someone. This is AFTER I had been a massage therapist for almost four years. People had hurt me (intentionally and not), and in my perspective, becoming the toucher meant becoming the predator. One day a fellow trainee was practicing handstand, and I was standing within inches watching, and I was terrified to assist her. She started to fall backwards, I froze, and she landed flat on her back. She looked up at me and sarcastically said, “Thanks Lauren!” I could have assisted her in holding the pose or at least helped ease her down safely, but I was too afraid. Then, I made the connection that I had to step up. Yes, I could assist people and they might get hurt, but the inverse was also true. People could get hurt because I did nothing. I had to overcome many fears to be more comfortable with assists, but I was able to do it. After I started teaching, I began assisting students less and less, and eventually, several classes would go by, and I hadn’t touched a single person.
The studio I teach at offered an assisting workshop, and I knew I needed to sign up. I was surprised how much of my previous training came back to me once I was there. The most surprising thing was how powerful it was to receive a good assist. Annie Q helped me get into poses I had long since thought impossible, but I had to be open to receiving her touch. She asked the group, “Who here is afraid of dropbacks?” I knew that raising my hand meant that she would want me to do one, but I raised my hand anyway. I stood facing her and started to lean back, and I remember thinking one-third of the way down, “I can’t do this.” I had to make the decision to trust her, to let her support me while reaching backward toward the floor. When my hands hit the ground, I was shocked. Then she urged me to push into my legs, as she helped pull me up. I was standing upright, laughing, but was thinking, “Okay, thanks, I’m done now.” And she just replied, “Go, again.” I went. I did it at least four times. Each time making the decision to trust, to feel fear and do it anyway, and to be open to the amazing things I never thought I could do.
If you still find yourself reluctant to receive touch from a teacher, I understand. I have been there; however, that same reluctance prevented me from progressing further into my own practice. To receive an assist is an act of surrender. It isn’t about fixing or correcting you. It takes you out of the ego, and into the present moment. It’s the “being” part of that whole human being experience. On the teacher side of things, Annie reminded me how much assisting is about being present, kind, giving, and strong. It’s such a selfless and generous part of the practice. Every touch can guide a student deeper into a pose, into their own bodies, through their fears, and straight into their own true Self. I was too stuck in my own reservations to get there on my own. Bodhidharma said, “Only one person in a million becomes enlightened without a teacher’s help.” I’m definitely not enlightened, but I am so grateful for all of my teachers for simply holding space for me to become present and for just a moment…truly see my Self.