Updated: Sep 8
In general, traditionally there was a lot of touch in yoga and other disciplines. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about abuse and talk about inappropriate touch.
Here are a few guidelines:
Get consent and remember that given consent does not mean consent all the time, allow for the person to opt-out at any time of being touched!
Be aware of different cultures and of students who may have had a traumatic experience. As mentioned before, in some cultures touch is not allowed in certain areas. Be aware of this!
Be sensitive, if you feel resistance stop! Walk away and don’t be offended if a person says no, it’s their body and you teach them to take responsibility.
Practise sexual restraint, your intention has to be for the mutual benefit of yoga and nothing else! Sexual feelings can arise in the student, the teacher or both. Ethical practise requires sexual restraint in relation to students.
Watch your language. If you say you are "correcting" students, it implies that they are wrong. "Assisting" or "adjusting" is preferable.
Go beyond teaching poses to teaching people. Always consider the person you are touching, why you are touching, and what is happening beyond technique.
Don’t approach suddenly, make sure your presence is known – don’t approach from the back, people are concentrating and may not feel you coming.
As outlined above, keep reminding yourself of your intentions when you assist. Subtle inner sensations rather than outer adjustments are more difficult to assist but more advanced in the long term.
When you touch you can indicate the direction and in which direction you want the movement to take place, create freedom, ease and space. Assist through your language and encourage your students to do the action by themselves. Challenge them! Sometimes there is no need to speak as the hands-on work speaks for itself.
Remember that the transformation goes deep, and we can help to expand the limited notions people often hold about themselves!
Enhance your own understanding of anatomy and biomechanics so that you never adjust over the physical limits.
Keep relaxed as you assist and keep a sense of humour! Watch your own body as you assist. Distribute the weight, bend knees, keep your back and neck safe. Often teachers who do their own practice as they ‘teach’ get injuries, such as neck, shoulder or knee problems since they move their necks in awkward positions to see what their students are doing! One very good reason not to do your own practice as you teach!
Never make people feel inadequate or invade their personal space.
Remember each person is different and therefore assists are never mechanical or one size fits all! The shape of our bones is the ultimate limiter of our range of motion!
If a student is down or depressed, it might be ok to assist in a supportive and encouraging way but be careful not to assist in a way that could make the student fall in love with you!
Some students will freeze and tense when you touch them, always consider the history of the student. Even though a student has given you consent it does not mean that you should go further in the assist.
Let the movement come from the student and remember sometimes less is more!
With very advanced students assists can be counterproductive as you may disturb their introspection and you bring them back into an external state of awareness, so hands-off.
Be aware of making your students dependent on you and treat everyone equally. Be aware of those who might feel neglected or lack attention.
Maybe you could let students touch you when you are demonstrating something E.g. breathing and softness of the abdomen.
As a last note, if in doubt, don’t touch, but empower...
Read about the power of touch. Do you have anything to add? Leave me a comment, be kind and share.