The Importance of Consent in Yoga
I did about half of my Yoga Teacher Training online due to COVID lockdowns here in Melbourne. Because of that we focused a lot on verbal cueing of yoga poses, and talked about the trend of moving away from doing physical adjustments. When we were able to meet in person we then focused on visual cues, but still no touching….
As I am on the autism spectrum, and from a family that didn’t touch much, I don’t like to be touched by people I don’t know very well. And in terms of postural adjustment, I would prefer only to be touched by people who have had a lot of training in anatomy, physiology, and/or bodywork (which most newly minted yoga teachers don’t have).
When you are teaching a yoga class, you don’t know if there are participants who are like me, or people who may have been physically/sexually abused in the past, and who may be traumatised by your touch, even if it is well meaning.
Most people are trained not to make a fuss, especially in a class setting, so it is important that touch consent is always thought about and asked for in a yoga setting.
I like consent cards for live classes. They vary in design, but essentially one side gives permission for touch and the other side indicates no touch.
You explain them to new students, and have one at the top of each mat, so that at any point the class participants can quietly indicate whether they are ok with a hands on adjustment (or not) simply by turning over the card.
On a slightly less obvious note, a yoga student should never feel forced to go into a yoga pose that they don’t think their body will be able to do. This is how injuries happen!
Good teachers will always offer a variety of options for poses that can be challenging, and explain up front that every body is different and not all bodies can make the same shapes.
It is up to the student to decide how far their body/mind/emotions can go in a class, and to choose what works for them in the moment.
And finally, yoga teachers should never be telling students that they must get better at certain poses to be ‘making progress’, or to be a ‘true yogi’. Remember, traditionally yoga was not about asana (poses) anyway, it was about union – controlling the body, mind and emotions so that you connect with the true self, and perhaps, becoming one with everything.
Karen Howard is a Coach, Energetic Body Worker and teacher of gentle yoga.
She is also co-founder of The She Oak Collective, a place for sensitive and spiritually curious women who crave deep connection and conversation.