Guest Post by Laura Martier, 200hr Kunga Yoga + Lifestyle Teacher Training grad
It was Monday morning at one of my home yoga studios. Our teacher Anne was slowly lighting candles and adjusting the music volume while I was settling onto my mat, my world for the next hour and a half. About mid-way through the class I was easing to my version of Parvritta Parsvakonasana; strong stable lunge with my forearm resting onto my thigh, hand active, heart open, my opposite arm reaching up and over. I noticed on that morning as I inhaled and exhaled, the rotation of my heart was taking me to a deeper place in my pose, a place my body had not been before. I smiled and greeted this place silently. “Oh…hello and yes, this feels really nice, thank you.”
A mere sixteen hours before, I was coming to the end of a four day Kunga Yoga Hands on Assists Teacher Training at the Wilmington Yoga Studio in Wilmington, North Carolina. I spent 30 hours with six fellow yogis and two teachers immersed in learning this powerful and effective teaching tool. Hands-on assists are offered by a teacher and encourage the student through physical touch- gentle and firm- to experience a posture in a way that may not be available in that moment. Whether it is a gentle touch to soothe a striving student that is really working hard or firm support that encourages a deeper sense of opening or safety in a pose, hands-on assists are a beautiful way to encourage connection and support in a yoga practice between teacher and student.
After my Monday class, as I moved through my day I thought about the assistance I received in that morning class. My teacher encouraged my hips back and my feet down in Ahdo Muka Svanasana, while simultaneously giving the entire class a verbal form of the same assistance. During our inversion practice she guided me up into my headstand against the wall several times, each time I experienced a better understanding inside my body as I listened to both her words and the messages my body was sending me. In Savasana, perfectly placed palms lovingly pressing my shoulders brought an instant smile on my exhale.
Assistance may take many forms both on and off of the mat. It can be a spoken or written word. It can be non-verbal like a smile, direct gaze or an intentional touch at just the right time. I am constantly reminded of the way family, friends, lovers, teachers and strangers have all helped me grow and change just by reaching out when I needed it and especially when I didn’t know I needed it. Because I recognize the myriad ways I have received assistance on my life’s journey, I try not to underestimate the power of my own ability to support others as I set my intentions to serve any situation, every moment in every day, from the core of my compassionate heart.
There is a Hafiz poem that equates the heart with a holy lamp. I try to visualize an exchange of heart light between myself and others when I am giving of myself and when I am receiving assistance that is offered to me. It could be a letter from a friend who reaches out during a time of crisis, reminding me that I am not alone or a smile from a stranger that reminds me to breathe and smile as I travel throughout my day. Energy to keep the holy lamps burning.
During the hands-on assisting workshop one of our wise teachers shared some wisdom handed down to her from one of her teachers. We were discussing how hard it can be to openly receive, but how it is impossible to give fully without receiving. She shared, “ When our bucket is empty and we keep giving, it actually becomes a dis-service because we are then only offering the sludge at the bottom of the bucket!”
Understanding how important it is to give from a place of abundance as opposed to lack has been one of my greatest life lessons. The times I took on the role of giver and provider when I did not have the energy to do so left me feeling tired and often resentful. Now those experiences are my teachers. They tell me I need rest, a walk on the beach, connection with loved ones, touch and anything else that fills my physical, emotional and spiritual reservoir. Then, from that place, where the water is clear and blue and plentiful I can offer it to others, to my practice and the world around me.
By experiencing the benefits of being assisted in my yoga practice by a compassionate teacher, I am reminded that yoga is life. I can enter the world on my mat and learn through my body and the encouraging, loving touch of another that support is always there for me. When I roll up my mat and walk out the door and into the world, I know I have everything I need inside of me to offer the same love and compassionate support not just to my own students and myself, but to the world.
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