When do Yoga Adjustments cross the line?

Via on Sep 22, 2009

pervy yoga instructor failblog.com

“Pervy Yoga Instructor FAIL” practicing “inverted lotus fondle” via our pal Jeffrey, who tipped us to this photo I’m identifying as no less than the venerated, late, occasionally controversial Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois—the founder of Ashtanga Yoga—himself. Via Failblog.com.

It’s tough—there’s been some lawsuits when yoga teachers (remember the “Graspin’ Aspen” yoga teacher) (ab)use their power, auhoritative position and trust to “touch” students in inappropriate ways—but the line between…

…genuine adjustment (which can be very intimate, crossing the line of what is “normal” and yet  still be appropriate within the context of yoga)

vs.

…flirtation (can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “pretty” students get more attention in classes)

vs.

…inappropriate violation of one’s boundaries (even here, there’s a litigation-confusing line between what’s appropriate in Indian and Western cultures)

…is rarely clear. That said, I’m a schlubby bloke, and no one ever touches me inappropriately (though experiencing other schlubby guys lean their bodies on my rare in downdog is…a unique experience), so I really wouldn’t know. I do know that I love getting adjustments, they change my practice and even open up my entire life, a bit. I remember one of the first classes I ever took with Richard Freeman, I was sweating and trying as hard as I could to do a backbend…and suddenly he was standing over me, put his hands under me on my shoulder blades, gently lifted up, and an in-rush of air changed my world—I opened up, if only for a moment, my still, stale heart.

My opinion: the student generally knows when the line her or his line is getting crossed, and can judge whether that crossing is welcome (if they’re flirting back) or not at all welcome (the vast majority of the time). That said, before taking yoga class into the courtroom, it’s best to give the benefit of the doubt.

You might, however. What’s appropriate? What’s inappropriate? And who’s to judge?

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29 Responses to “When do Yoga Adjustments cross the line?”

  1. max says:

    no way is that appropriate….

  2. Bryant says:

    Sorry, I agree there can be differing comfort zones and variations between what is acceptable in Eastern versus Western cultures – but this is just a man with his hands on a couple of vaginae. Epic fail indeed.

  3. ryan says:

    This photo was actually manipulated in photoshop. it is a fake…I saw the actual photo linked elsewhere where his hands are in a much more appropriate position..

  4. leah beltran says:

    this is sad…to say the least.

  5. [...] So it’s particularly painful and troubling when we find that sanctuary violated. [...]

  6. mletag says:

    Disclaimer: In the event of creepy Mula Bandha check, [Student] is not liable for injuries sustained by [Teacher] as a result of [Student's] defensive/involuntary swift kick to the Jalandhara bandha.

  7. ARCreated says:

    you know it's not just about sexuality…appropriate is also ensuring that the adjustment is in the interest of the student and not about the teacher "doing" an adjustment….it's about injury and personal space — even if "appropriate" I still feel a student has the right to a bubble and it should only be crossed with permission. I'm guessing male teachers have a harder time with this issue?

  8. Wade Sims says:

    Teachers should be aware that each student brings to the mat his or her own unique set of experiences. What might be completely appropriate for one yogi might be terrifying to another. Some may need touch in a safe environment to help heal old wounds. Some may interpret a necessary correction to form in a sexual manner which was never intended. I tend to make gender assumptions with this issue, but I strongly suspect that I need to grow past these assumptions and recognize that my biases obscure the bigger picture that this is a problem for both sexes. I don't have a good answer for this complex question, but I make it a point to get to know the instructors and attempt to understand the motives behind owners of the studio. I've known some that encourage (mandate) touch as a way to increase participation. If it doesn't feel right, I find a new studio. If I'm not there for the right reasons, I sit with it.

  9. Doug Adamson says:

    As a male instructor this makes me cringe. I rarely do adjustments. I never would touch an area that would be covered by a bathing suit. If I do an adjustment in an area outside that restricted zone, I first ask permission. And then I use a yoga block. My goal as a teacher is to have students flourish, shine and radiate thier inner beatify. This kinda stuff hurts all male teachers who legitimately have thier students best interests at heart.

  10. okilloran says:

    I found this article / commentary less than helpful. It addressed the issue of a yoga teacher "crossing a line" inapproproately when making an adjustment on a student and stated that each person would know when and what that is. Then it ends with saying "it's best to give the benefit of a doubt." Isn't that a contradiction? So, if I know that it is inappropriate – for me – why should I suppress that and give anyone benefit of a doubt? If it is not right fir me, it's not right. It is the responsibility of the teacher to assure the safety and comfort – physical and emotional – of the yoga student. If the teacher is not doing that, the student should make that known to the teacher (even if the student chooses to leave that teacher, please let the teacher know why – you owe it to other students to confront the issue). And I have to say that the whole idea that a teacher would use a yoga adjustment on a student as a "flirtation" or in a flirtatious manner is outrageous and offensive. Not the time nor place, and just creepy IMO. Same with students "flirting back." Seriously? Why are they in a yoga class?

  11. Pabitra Kumar Bag says:

    why a lady yoga teacher can not be the part of this kind of adjustment,if at all adjustment is needed in that way ?

  12. noha says:

    if you don't believe in pictures search in youtube. It's disturbing.

    PATTABHI JOIS: When do Ashtanga Yoga Adjustments cross the line?

  13. noha says:

    if you don't believe in pictures search in youtube. It's disturbing.

  14. droidmedia says:

    Also as a male teacher I always use the back of my hands to adjust female students, preferably just a gentle amount of pressure to bring, let's say a knee, into line. I teach in a small community and am very conscious about hands on adjustments of anyone, female or male (as I would be in any community or studio). Averting my gaze to the floor in positions such as happy baby is also very important. Giving the student their sanctity and personal space is an absolute must. I'm old and ugly enough to know where the line is and I will never cross it.

  15. Sheetali Singh says:

    "…inappropriate violation of one’s boundaries (even here, there’s a litigation-confusing line between what’s appropriate in Indian and Western cultures)"

    In Indian culture the only intimate (as in suggesting sexual) touching between people is between married couples, really. India doesn't even have a "dating culture" so when an Indian yoga teacher touches a student like that, they mostly do so to non-Indian students because they think they can get away from it amongst people who come from cultures where sexual touching between non-married people is normal (provided its consensual, of course).

    But to the Indian male yoga teacher who was raised in a sexually conservative culture where marriages are arranged and the sexes are often segregated socially, Western cultures often appear to be a smorgasboard of "social" oppurtunities he lacked growing up in India.

    And no, age or respectable social status does not matter in this context.

  16. karen katz says:

    I love adjustments myself, and have never received an inappropriate one.
    anything that involves a Yoga teachers fingers grazing the peri-rectal area, or lower labia is pretty much a no brainer.
    FAIL!

  17. Sheetali Singh says:

    Noha I watched that video. Where are the scantily clad Indian female yoga students with their bodies contorted in such suggestive ways? That's part of my point above. These Indian "gurus" know they can get away with far more amongst their scantily clad Western students than with Indians who come to yoga fully covered in salwar-kameez and husband or family in tow.

    With all of the above said, he adjusted both male and female students in the same manner (in the video) and didn't appear to have an erection (unless I couldn't see it).

    But again I ask: did the Indian students of both sexes in India dress differently and did he adjust them differently? That would be the litmus test on whether or not Jois had a double standard and knew that what he was doing was of a particularly sexual intent.

    Perhaps someone here who has studied under him extensively in India can comment?

  18. Kristine says:

    I would be pissed and his nuts would be permanently relocated to his throat. This is why I don't go to classes or trust people. Yes I have trust issues.

    • sabine says:

      Best comment here! So true – yoga teacher, yoga student….blah blah blah….we're all just people here going through the experience together.
      what's wrong is wrong and you know it,
      he knows it,
      and you make sure he (or she) knows you know it with a slap, a glare, a kick if needed.
      It's not about trust issues but self respect and respect for your fellow yogis.
      Right on, Kristine!

  19. shankar says:

    This is why real yoga teachers practice Bramacharia for *at least* couple of years before, and a couple of years after they are invited to teach. (I mean real Bramacharia, not "I'm so bramacharia"), of course in a culture in which you can do a week's course with no prior practise, and take a few selfies with your legs in the air, and call yourself a yogi, that's not going to happen.

  20. Jakar says:

    KPJ was almost 90 at this stage and 'possibly' had a form of dementia. Nobody dared tell him to stop doing this and there was no shortage of people who wanted to attend workshops. This wasn't how he had lived his life.

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