BOOK REVIEW: Yoga Assists by Sharon Gannon and David Life

Yoga Assists: A Complete Visual and Inspirational Guide to Yoga Asana AssistsYoga Assists: A Complete Visual and Inspirational Guide to Yoga Asana Assists by Sharon Gannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an illustrated guide to making yoga assists, or what are often called corrections or adjustments. The style is Jivamukti Yoga, and the book is written by its founders. The postures will be familiar to practitioners of any form of Hatha Yoga, but the action of the teacher (or assistee) may be quite unlike what one is used to.

This book offers some valuable information for any teacher of yoga, though many—probably most—will find the overall approach unsuitable. (If it is suitable, more power to you; you’ll want to read and re-read this book.) However, even if you’re not likely to use this style of teaching, there’s worthwhile technical information to be gained.

I’ll explain why this won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. First, many of the assists are highly invasive, by that I mean they involve being at an intimate distance with the student for an extended period of time. If you primarily teach experienced students who know and trust you, these invasive assists may be helpful. However, if you’re teaching beginners in studio sessions, one may need to be selective about what one uses and what one doesn’t. The ultimate goal is “chitta vritti nirodhah” (calming mental turbulence) and not to contort the student’s body into a perfect version of the posture. If, instead of facilitating the student’s look inward, you make them feel awkward and self-conscious, you’ve missed the mark. If everybody in question has achieved a monkish state of mind, this won’t be an issue, but history (and many a lawsuit) suggests that this is often not the case.

The second issue follows from the discussion above. By manipulating the student toward some objectively perfect version of the posture, you may encourage them to think that is important—that it’s important to you and that it should be important to them. This may have adverse ramifications such as driving away students who are far from the perfect expression of the pose or making it difficult for them to internalize santosha (contentment with where one is presently.) Being so hands-on may be at odds with one’s philosophy. Not only does it discourage contentment and gradually advancement toward better form, it also detracts from the notion that it’s about the student looking inward. (In other words, so much hands-on assistance thrusts the teacher onto the spotlight of what should as much as possible be the student’s private time and space.) Corrections are needed to avert injuries and to help the student improve, but this level of contact is more intense than required for those goals.

Still, I found this to be an informative and worthwhile read. It’s not every assist in the book that is invasive, and the ones that are still have their use with students with whom one has built trust and rapport, and particularly in workshop settings. The assists are optimized to be stable and safe, which is why they are often close and handsy—at least for those of us who were taught to start with verbal instruction, move to non-touching gestural instruction, and—only when necessary–put hands on the student (and then with care to be at an angle so as to not make the student uncomfortable.) Overall, the book does a fine job of presenting the necessary information.

The authors use both photographs and line drawn diagrams to convey the details of the assists. The organization is logical. After a section of general background, the book proceeds through poses using the standard groupings with which Hatha teachers will be acquainted (standing, forward bends, twists, back bends, inversions, and relaxation poses.) There is textual explanation in a form consistent from one asana (posture) to the next to support the graphics. The poses are the most common of the classic asana, and they cover a good number of the basics that one will teach in classes. They also provide some insight into how to apply the same principles to intermediate and advanced poses that aren’t included.

The book does have its faults. One of them is to wedge in irrelevant information. This can be seen from the get-go with an introductory “Go Vegan” rant. There’s also a bit of a tendency to muddle science with pseudo-science, but all that matters for the most part is basic anatomy–and that’s handled well enough. This isn’t so much criticism as forewarning, but you may find some of the commentary to be like those YouTube parodies of yoga classes—you know the ones that are hilariously far out. But just occasionally.

I’d recommend this book for yoga teachers or intermediate / advanced students who want to increase their understanding of alignment.

View all my reviews

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