Saturday, November 14, 2009
On Being An Assistant
I recently took a four day assistant workshop. It wasn't a Montessori training. It was with the Baron Baptiste Yoga Institute. The workshop was an amazing, informative and exhausting four days. Assistants work in a yoga studio environment populated by adult students and led by a master teacher.
Each of the 109 attendants learned anatomy, asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing) techniques and techniques on assisting a yoga student. This work of assisting students generally requires touching the yoga practitioner. Talking is at a minimum, if at all. Eye contact is brief. The touching is referred to as adjusting. These adjustments assist the student in coming into a "deeper pose."
Coming into a "deeper pose" constitutes the physical act of being in the pose and the mental act of concentration and focus. All movement is purposeful movement. Knowing when to assist by physically adjusting and supporting a student or by providing tools such as blocks or straps is made by quiet observations off the mat. When the class is finished, the assistants clean and prepare the environment, along with arranged volunteers, for the next class. This might also include sanitizing and re-rolling the studio's yoga mats.
The other day, when I was taking a yoga class, the master teacher attempted to assist me. I quietly stated that I did not need assistance as I was about to make the adjustment myself. He persisted and I again asked not to be helped. About a half an hour into the class, he stopped by my mat and attempted to assist me again by adjusting my wrist. I have a fused wrist and forearm. I stood up and heard myself say the classic line, "I can do it myself. Thank you but I do not need help."
It was a significant moment having just taken my own assistant training. I thought to myself, "This is how all my three and four years feel in my classroom when I try to assist them even after they have stated their desire to do it themselves." It brought me into a deeper understanding of their position and posturing, while simultaneously informing me that assisting in either setting requires not only visually assessing a situation but actively listening to the student.
Yoga and Montessori have so many overlapping variables. I worked as a specialist while my son Ian was in his final high school years instead of working full time as a lead teacher. This provided me with more flexibility in my schedule so as to be available to him as he needed me.
As a specialist I taught yoga in various Montessori schools in the Boston area. I had a great web page called "Yoga with Susan: Where Montessori and Yoga Meet." During my class, we often played the bell game and did other Montessori activities. One time, while playing a brief game of concentration with materials from the classroom, a student said to me, "Concentration leads to meditation." He closed his eyes and became absolutely still. Soon, other children followed. I have so many wonderful memories of working as a specialist. I continue to teach yoga to children and do it as my full time job in the summer.
I am not working as a lead teacher this year. Instead, I have been substitute teaching while I prepare to move to Vermont where I will again take on the role of directress. Most of the time when I sub, I am asked to work as an assistant. It has been a deeply rewarding experience. I spend much more time writing observation notes and preparing the environment than I did as a lead. I also assist children at the teacher's request.
Besides my years of experience as a Primary Directress, I bring to this work new insights having recently taken my yoga teacher assistant training. At the end of the four days, each of us described what we found the most captivating about the work. One of the trainees said, "To be in service to another." Her words continue to resonate with me. If I could describe the role of an assistant in the Montessori classroom those would be the words. They sing a humble tune that speaks of both knowledge about and personal commitment to the work at hand.