Dear Yoga Teacher,
2 Things I learned from sharing my last blog:
- Many people do not read articles in their entirety (How are you expressing an opinion on content you haven’t read?)
- This is a highly debated topic with strong opinions on both sides.
For those of you who didn’t take the time to read to the end of my first post- I am not against assisting or adjusting in yoga! Not even close! My last blog was meant to strike up a conversation, advocate for students safety, and let teachers know you can be an amazing yoga teacher without any physical touching.
I believe that assisting can be a valuable teaching tool. I do assist in my classes (only to students I know very well and who practice with me consistently). Most of my physical adjusting in classes is minimal, showing people where to soften, where to engage, or giving them a resistant force to create the shape on their own. To the point of my first blog- this is where understanding anatomy DOES MATTER. Yes, I do other kinds of assisting- often in privates, workshop settings, or teacher training. I am an advocate for helping students explore depth in their practice SAFELY.
Many people come to yoga having been very disconnected from their bodies for a long time. Often when students backbend, they only move from their lumbar. In down dog shoulder blades often retract and creep up into ears. Many "dump" into their low backs with zero core engagement. People fold from their spine rather than their hips. As teachers, it is our job to teach safer movement patterns. Verbal assists are beautiful, but for some people, touch is even more beneficial. Everyone learns different, some are visual, some do well audibly, and some students learn best through physical assists.
I received a lot of comments on how much value there is in "light and gentle touch". I do not argue with this point. As a massage therapist for 16 years, I fully understand the benefit of touch. But again, this comes back to awareness, knowledge, and intention. My last blog didn’t even touch on trauma and when touch is not only not helpful, but invasive or traumatizing for students.
My father died exactly five years ago today. The ultimate heartbreak of my lifetime. I loved this man through and through and losing him was excruciating for me. The whole year following his death I did not want to be touched at all, but especially in yoga. Yet time and time again, teachers, well intended I'm sure, continued to touch and assist me, sometimes strongly and other times gently. It was the gentle assists that made my whole body cringe. Both brought up an emotional response in me. It felt invasive. What I needed in that period of my life was space.
So here are some questions to ask yourself as a teacher-
Are you paying attention to your students?
Are you arriving early enough to talk to and check in with students before class begins?
Do you know what’s going on in your student's life?
Do you know their history?
Do you have your students permission to touch them?
Do you have trauma training?
Do you understand anatomy?
If you answered no to any of these questions, maybe think twice before placing your hands on someone, even if it’s light, gentle touch.
My hope is to inspire thought for yoga teachers. I am not taking a stand for or against physical touch in yoga. I am taking a stand for awareness and intention in all that we do.