I have been on my teaching path for about 9 years now. Everyday I get the opportunity to teach something that brings me so much love, joy, compassion, and community. Yoga has changed my life in ways I never thought possible. I have learned so much about myself and about how to treat others because of this practice. When I made the decision to become a teacher I wanted to be sure that I continued practicing the core values and principles that were taught and instilled in me from my trainings. Part of being a teacher is carrying out all that you’ve learned into the room. It’s one of my favorite things about being a teacher. I get the opportunity to create and cultivate a space that is safe for my students to be explorative and open in their own yoga practice.
So when I hear stories of assault or inappropriate touch in yoga classes, it gives me sadness, anger, and a broken heart. I get upset because people, human beings, are being hurt. Something that has brought so much love in my life has brought them pain. Yoga has helped me and countless others to heal. And yet almost like anything else, yoga has cast a dark shadow. Over the past couple of years, there have been more and more stories of inappropriate behavior from male teachers to students. It breaks my heart, my spirit, and my practice to see the pain that something that has given me so much in my life be used as a tool to control and gain access to bodies. It makes me want to scream. It makes me angry. It makes me sick. No person should ever experience or be the victim of abuse. EVER. These stories make me question what I can do to end this cycle of abuse in our community. What can I do as a cismale teacher to change the future of where and what yoga can go and can be? How can I better this community? How can I be a vessel for change?
I know for starters I will continue to voice what it means to have a healthy touch when assisting, adjusting and supporting in class. Like most things in life, there is a right and wrong. The same is true for why we are touching our students in class. Our touch should always have a purpose in elevating and supporting our students. I teach trainings and workshops all over the world and what I find brought up most is the lack of what touch should and can mean. I often refer to myself as the “Adjustment Queen” and I have had some of the most amazing experiences in yoga with the simple touch of a hand on my back. I truly do believe touch is a way to offer a helping hand to assist and adjust our students in our class. That’s why it is so it’s important to me to shed some positive light on the topic of HEALTHY touch.
I am a firm believer in always coming to the practice first. Tuning to your work of yamas and niyamas (social restraints + self-discipline). These principles are taught before anything else along the yogic journey and for good reason. They’re a way for us to tune in and check our boundaries. In the teaching of Tantra, there is the philosophy of 1 + 1 = 3. To make this a bit more plain and simple, when two things come together they create a third meaningfully different thing. This is something else to consider when getting the privilege of working with students. Checking in to make sure we are not in the business of trying to create the experience for them but supporting them along the way.
Nowadays, I have student teachers in class offering their gifts in support and assisting. And to be honest I think it’s important to do so before just going out into the world of teaching. Why? Because 200 HR YTT is an overload of information. Seeing it in action versus understanding it from a book or manual are two very different things. I highly recommend finding a teacher that resonates with you and ask if you can assist in their class. If they say yes then start working with them.
Here’s what I would do:
Find a teacher you resonate with and commit to at least 6 months of being in that teacher’s class. The commitment is not just about showing up. It’s arriving on time. Staying after. And most importantly it’s about getting to know the students you’re going to work with.
While you’re in class, get ready to be a sponge. Set yourself up in a place where you can watch your teacher while not being in the way. Move around the room so all students get your time and attention. Be aware of the entire room vs just one student. In a sense, you will be a role model in class. People will be watching your actions to see how they should be acting as well.
Start to understand what your teacher is working on in the sequence. Get comfortable in observing. Once you do, can you see what your teacher might be building up to or how they are guiding the class? How are they teaching? What’s the theme? Where is the sequence so far? Can you see what is next?
When you’re feeling ready to adjust and assist, check-in with your students. Watch the students’ eyes and breath. Breathe with them. Really see the student for where they are. Don’t make it about you, because it’s not. As you assist don’t rob your students of their own experience. Let them struggle with the pose and let them find their release. I can’t stress this enough – let the student lead the way.
When touching bodies remember that these are all humans going through their own world. Be sensitive to their emotional boundaries. Do not caress the student. If you feel that a student doesn’t want to be touched, don’t touch them. Generally, when in doubt, don’t touch. Sometimes it’s better not to give an adjustment, even when you see something you want to “fix.” And sometimes it’s better to have the teacher adjust the student, even when you know what to do.
It’s always important to check in with yourself and check in with your teacher when you’re done. Get feedback. That’s the only way that we grow and learn. Above all else keep learning. Find teachers, workshops, and training that are in alignment with what you.
There is an absolute gift to be able to support students in the way that we do. Stay humble and remember to honor the human within.