Saturday, May 06, 2017

What Could Go Wrong During a Physical Assist in a Yoga Class?

during a physical assist
By Amruta Kulkarni, CYT 500

Offering hands-on assists in a yoga class can be an incredible gift. Through the power of touch, you can connect with students and help them connect with themselves. While it is important to focus on the positive aspects of providing touch, understanding where an assist can go wrong is also critical.


Physical contact, regardless of the positive intentions of the instructor, can be misconstrued by students. If a student has experienced trauma, then touch may be a trigger. While advanced training targeted toward helping victims of trauma is available, all instructors can and should be trauma-informed.

Creepy Hands

When you offer an adjustment, use your palms rather than your fingertips. Practice assists on someone who is willing to give you feedback. They can tell you if you are using the appropriate amount of pressure. A light touch may seem kind, but it can be misinterpreted by your students.

Be mindful of where you place your hands and how you position your body in relation to your student. If someone walked into your class, would they be alarmed at your physical position?


In a society where most of us are corrected on our performance, an assist can feel like a form of criticism. Some students may think that your constant and well-intentioned corrections are signaling that they are not strong yoga practitioners. If a student hasn’t internalized the importance of being kind to themselves, they may become frustrated during assists. With those things in mind, you will need to choose your adjustments and moderate their frequency until you have built a strong rapport with the student.

Transferring Energy

A teacher can convey so much through contact. A sense of balance and calm pervades a space in which an instructor is fully grounded and focused. Teachers are human beings, and it is important to know that we all have days when we feel off-kilter. Maybe you are getting over an illness, or your significant other broke up with you, or a loved one has just been hospitalized. Maybe this is your fifteenth yoga class this week, and you are feeling exhausted. Be mindful of your own state when helping others.

While the slings and arrows of life don’t prohibit you from teaching, you may want to consider how you assist on stressful days. If you are jittery or insecure, your students will notice. If you are distracted by something going on outside of the studio, or you generally don’t like to give physical adjustments, this will come through during the assist. Our goal should always be to support our students’ safety and well-being. Avoid transferring your negative energy to students.


The potential for injury is inherent in any physical practice, and adjustments that are improperly executed can exacerbate the risks. We offer hands-on adjustments because we want to deepen students’ practices, but if we are not cautious, we can do more harm than good. An instructor should never force a student into a shape. 

Understanding the anatomy of postures by using resources like those produced by Leslie Kaminoff or Ray Long can teach you the musculoskeletal underpinnings of the asanas. Anatomical knowledge offers insight into how the adjustment will affect the target area and surrounding muscle groups. Paying attention to your students’ breath and supporting communication during an assist can also prevent injury.

Despite the number of ways that physical assists can go awry, the benefits outweigh the risks. Stay cognizant of the potential pitfalls, be present with your students, and commit to doing some homework in order to mitigate the potential hazards of physical assists.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Mary Wilson said...

As a Yoga teacher you should be mindful of where you place your hands and how you position your body in relation to your student. Thanks for writing this nice article.

peter f said...

This article you shared to us will serve as our reminder. These are very helpful for every Yoga teachers and aspiring ones. Very valuable.