The question of consent has been a topic of conversation in yoga circles recently. Most specifically, the consent of the student that should be required before any hands-on adjustments or touch of any kind is given by the teacher. For many years, yoga teachers would simply physically adjust their students bodies as they saw fit. As you can well imagine, there are problems with this.
Some teachers have taken liberties with this implied consent, and how they were touching their students has been questioned, rightfully so. There are videos of well-known teachers touching students in ways and places that I would call assault, both sexual and physical. Teachers have sat on or stood on their students and touched them in places that are not necessary or appropriate in a yoga studio, among other things. Of course, this is the extreme, but it does exist in yogaland.
I hope it goes without saying that I would never touch one of my students in this way. The adjustments that I give in class are minor and are more of a suggestion of how to move your body, or an assist to you, and I always ask if it's alright if I touch you. People are often taken aback by my question. Lately I've been wondering if people would really tell me when they don't want to be touched. If I'm standing right next to your mat offering an assist with your posture, would you actually say, "No," when asked if it's alright to be touched?
Many people have suffered some kind of trauma in their lives. One-third of Canadians have suffered child abuse (see article here). Nearly 1 in 10 Canadians will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives (see here). Every year 460 000 sexual assaults occur in Canada (see here). I could go on, but I think it's clear that when I begin a class and look around the room, the chances that someone in is a survivor of trauma is fairly high. It's entirely possible that someone in the room has come to yoga because of that trauma. And it's also possible that without knowing it, by touching them on the back when they are in child's pose, I could be triggering them.
There are lots of reasons why people might not want to be touched. Some people have more need for personal space. Other people may be dealing with personal issues. Or, maybe your hip is bothering you since you bumped it last night, and you just don't want me to touch you when you come to your mat. Your reasons for wanting or not wanting touch are your own, and as your body is yours to control, you get to choose.
Like many other studios, to try to find better ways to approach this issue of consent, I'm bringing consent cards into the studio. They're very simple: one side says, "Yes, please," and the other side says, "No, thank you." When you come into the room and collect your props for class, please take one. Place it on the floor at the front of your mat, and I'll know if you want me to touch you or not. Feel free to change your mind as we move through class. You might think you want me to touch you, and then decide that you don't. That's ok. You may also not want to be touched during the asana practice, but do want the little neck massage and gentle adjustment that I give during the beginning of savasana, at the end of class — that's fine, too, just flip the card over and I'll know.
I'm hoping that in this small way I can continue to offer a safer space for people to come and practice yoga. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about this, please feel free to ask when in studio, or send me an email.