I recently attended a weekend yoga workshop, and felt so grateful to get back into my own yoga practice. I’ve been teaching like crazy, and as a result, I don’t think I’ve taken a class for myself in months. It was fabulous, and an experience that, with another recent one, got me thinking about when and why we assist others.

First, the yoga class experience. Picture me in a 90-minute hot yoga class, one of those where mats are about an inch apart from each other and sweat is flying everywhere. I’m thrilled to be there but have been suffering mentally / emotionally and physically, literally getting 3 hours of sleep the night before, and going through a lot of personal “stuff”.

I’m in down dog, playing with the posture the way I’ve been trained (in the Kripalu style). In this particular moment, I had my palms slightly turned out to be able to breathe more comfortably into the posture and take care of my wrists and shoulders. One of the instructors at the studio that was hosting the workshop came over to me, repositioned both my palms to face forward, and pressed my hands down. I looked up at her and said, “actually that variation feels better for me”, and (perhaps stubbornly) put my hands back where I originally had them.

Now when I was trained, I loved assisting. And, I hardly do it in my classes, because there’s a part of me that always feels like it’s an invasion of the students’ personal experience. (Of course, if something is a potential health risk, I give verbal cues to get them to realign.) This instructor just appeared (vs. approached me slowly to let me know she was coming in), didn’t ask if she could help, etc. So OK, that’s one thing, the initial assist.

However, what I experienced after that made more of an impact on me. I found myself distracted by her walking around the room, watching to see who she assisted, feeling slightly worried that she was going to come up to me and adjust me in a position that would have been more detrimental (e.g. the time she pressed down near someone’s ankle/foot in Warrior II, which for me would have been awful as I’m recovering from an Achilles injury, or the time she touched a woman in a tentative balancing posture).  I also noticed her touching the shoulders of a woman who was taking a break, sitting simply in Vajrasana, which made me wonder what her motivations for assisting where. Was she simply doing it to feel like she was doing something? Obviously I don’t know for sure. And, as a yoga instructor not teaching the workshop, it’s easy to see how she might feel that she needed to play a role.

Second, a friend recently posted an article to Facebook called “Please don’t help my kids“. Knowing nothing about raising kids, I decided to comment on his sharing of the article, noting: “As someone who probably knows less than you and is/has been stubbornly independent, I can’t help but think there’s a balance to be found in there too: i.e. learning when to ask for help, and being able to accept it when it’s offered.”

It was one of those posts that after I commented, I realized I had no business doing, and given the responses, totally regretted that decision. But why did I feel the need to comment? Because I felt had a different point of view to contribute: as a child who was raised without much nurturing assistance, knowing as an adult how that has hurt me in my relationships.

What I was trying to communicate (perhaps poorly) is that as in all things, there’s probably a right “balance point”. When and why we choose to assist others is something we need to think about, beyond the initial “helping” experience. Because, it’s quite possible (and likely), that our assistance can leave lasting impressions.

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Assisting others: thinking more critically about when & why we do it
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