On Assisting

This one was tough work…. Actually I wanted to write something about me assisting my teacher Nicole Bongartz. Since she is teaching at the Barcelona Yoga Conference and I am assisting her literally for years, it would just make perfect sense. It ended up to be a whole philosophical essay on assisting – so here we go.

Let’s start at the end: So supposed you assist someone for years – why would you do that? That was the first question I stumbled upon – kind of realizing asking myself.

Obviously you want to learn something. In the beginning this is the most logic reason. You want to learn something that you cannot get in teacher training. Something personal, something practical, something philosophical… Could be anything your teacher likes to share with you. Of course we all know this story that after a 200h-teacher-training your NOT a teacher. I mean, officially you are, but only through a lot of experience in teaching you become a real teacher. And for that reason assisting can be a good point in elongating your teacher training. You just do not stop learning.

But then the reality, here it comes: what assisting really means can be super different. It can differ very much from teacher to teacher, from yoga style to yoga style…Most often it means you wander around assisting the students your teacher teaches and getting feedback for that from your teacher. But then, for some reason, assisting can also mean being the second and foremost calendar of your teacher, or suddenly you see yourself carrying your teacher’s harmonium everywhere your he/she goes. And then for some assisting just means you are present when your teacher teaches. Of course: every mixture of all these ingredients is possible.

I’m leaving out of this essay: Assisting a teacher to get some of the fame – which applies of course only, if your teacher is famous. I’m leaving also out: Assisting to make connections at places your teacher is invited, e.g. yoga conferences.

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Nicole Bongartz, co-founder of Lord Vishnus Couch in Cologne, Germany.

In Jivamukti Yoga, where I did one of my teacher trainings, assisting is a big part of becoming a yoga teacher. If you go the whole way, after graduation of the 200h-teacher-training you go through an intense apprenticeship. Therefore you choose a teacher, which is definitely not easy, and you do the apprenticeship work with him/her at a minimum of three full time yoga months. So when I came back from my teacher training in May 2010 I really wanted to do such an apprenticeship. But I wouldn’t like to go to Berlin or Munich where you can do it at the Jivamukti Centers. And as I had a strong connection to Lord Vishnus Couch, the yoga school in Cologne, where Nicole is one of the founders…

Eventually but inevitably I ended up being her assistent. Which started by assisting her class once per week, Friday mornings. And then expanded into practicing together before the Friday class. Which was fun but also afforded some discipline which made this Friday morning a super stable part in my weekly schedule. At the latest on that point it is hard to tell what I learned exactly. It’s not anymore about positions, asanas, adjustments or yoga philosophy, but more about a continuous way of staying always a student. Now I teach since 6 years and I’m not assisting Nicole’s weekly class anymore, but still I assist her at workshops and conferences – as at the Barcelona Yogaconference.

So for me, coming finally to an end on these ideas about assisting, it means to follow one of the old indian patterns of learning yoga: having a teacher-student-relationship. Which is maybe not exactly what our society looks like – at least not in our modern yoga centers where there are always group teachings, same in teacher trainings. Assisting helps me as a yoga teacher to stay grounded. Or come back to the ground if I flew too high thinking I already know so much. It’s kind of staying humbled and accepting what is coming.

Nicole Bongartz teaches at the BYC on Saturday & Sunday.

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