Get Your Hands Off Me!

Via on Feb 6, 2013

Source: yogaposeweekly.com via YogaPose on Pinterest

I hate adjustments.

I’ve been adjusted by some of the top names in the yoga world. The assists have almost always been too much too soon and when the (gorgeous, fabulous, glowing) teacher asks, “Is this okay?” I’ve never found the courage to confess that it’s really so very not okay with me.

These people are world famous for teaching yoga. They’ve studied in India, trained with top anatomy teachers, started foundations. They know their stuff. Who am I to question their methods? The problem must be mine. So I keep my mouth shut and stuff my emotions.

Even when a teacher’s approach is exquisitely sensitive—Matthew Sanford comes to mind—it still propels me out of my own experience and into self-conscious mode.

So, in some ways, maybe I am the problem. My boundaries are too fluid. I lose my grounding easily. I’m highly sensitive.

Being touched pulls me out of myself and into worrying whether I have responded in a way that meets the needs of the other. Without touch, I can stay better connected to my own body, mind and heart. I’m more likely to maintain a steady flow of breath and stay in the moment.

I also teach yoga—and no, I don’t adjust.

True, it wasn’t part of my 200-hour training. My teachers told some horror stories and advised caution. But that’s not my excuse. I’ve learned plenty of adjustments over the years. At times, I’ve tried to integrate them into my classes but it’s never stuck. It’s just not me.

Why? Honestly? I don’t like to be touched (except by a chosen few). I’m also not that inclined to touch others—although I will if a student requests it.

Does this mean I should hang up my yoga strap? I hope not.

I believe there are ways that teachers could manage this issue with greater sensitivity and respect for students. When I have offered adjustments in my classes, it’s usually been during savasana. I ask for a subtle cue, like a hand on the belly, so students can communicate whether or not they want the touch. I would never touch someone without permission.

Very rarely has a teacher or assistant asked permission before touching me.

I like to think I would say, “No thank you” if given the option beforehand. But when a teacher is ramming down my hips when he asks for my input, what am I supposed to say?

If I say no, he may keep trying to get the adjustment right. So, I lie and say it’s great and then spend the rest of the class feeling frustrated with the teacher for not asking and with myself for not being honest. Major power dynamics exist, especially in workshops with master teachers. In my experience, touch intensifies them.

Again, just speaking from my own experience, adjustments interfere with my efforts to be authentic as well as exercise my personal power. And I don’t have a history of physical abuse. I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone with trauma in their background to be touched suddenly and aggressively. Yoga should be a safe haven for all.

I’m not expecting to win anyone over to my side here. I know the general consensus is that skilled yoga instructors adjust.

But I think it’s important to understand that there are students who don’t crave adjustments.

And competent yoga teachers who prefer to give students space rather than invade it.

 

 

~

Asst. Editor: Edith Lazenby

 

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About Amy Taylor

Amy Taylor writes about parenting, yoga and other journeys for jconline.com, GaiamTV, elephant journal and others. Find her biweekly columns here. She completed 200-hour YTT at CITYOGA in Indianapolis in 2008 and teaches classes for all ages at  Community Yoga. When she's not writing or practicing yoga, Amy loves to read, research and have adventures with her husband and twin sons. Follow her on Twitter.

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44 Responses to “Get Your Hands Off Me!”

  1. Frodis says:

    I am totally with you on that! The only "adjustments" I like to receive are what we call the "yummy" ones…the ones that just feel good, like a mini-massage. But even those aren't always welcome. It depends on my mood. Some days I might be ok with it. But most of the time, I just feel intruded upon.

  2. anouscka says:

    I sooo fully relate! My body has many difficulties that i am very much capable of working with in my practice. With all do respect wrthrr superstar teacher or novice they don’t know by looking at mr that i have scoliosis, a bulging disc, a dysfuntional si joint and a very over mobile vertebral column. So in order to protect myself and them i say no thanks but i’d rather have you talk me through it than

    make things worse. Remember: the alignment is important so you don’t hurt yourself, but the asana should be adapted to the body and not the other way around. When the body is reafy it will get there…judith lasater has a great way of teaching about this issue: always ask permission and treat your students with respect! Thanks for bringing this up!

    • yoginibee says:

      anouscka i am reading your comment with great interest, as i have a similar set of circumstances in my body. it is such an unusual combination – if you are up for it, i would love to connect via email or something to discuss what type of assistance you use (i.e. chiropractor, PT etc.) and how you have come to adapt your practice.

  3. Gary M says:

    Your observation here nails it for me! : “Being touched pulls me out of myself and into worrying whether I have responded in a way that meets the needs of the other”…

  4. Amy says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that alignment matters and do offer verbal cues. And, to be honest, I have had the rare yummy moment myself. Still, I'd prefer to know it's coming and have a choice.

    It's astounding how much shame I've carried about this issue. Even rereading this article, I sense it. I want to apologize for not being good enough to appreciate hands-on adjustments.

  5. lauraplumb says:

    Brilliant, Amy. Thanks for bringing to light a "touchy" subject.

  6. karlsaliter says:

    Any! Nice one!

    I think we do need to ask.

    It sometimes works, provided I speak clearly, to announce in downward dog

    "sometimes I teach with touch. If you are uncomfortable being touched, please raise your right leg for me to let me know."

    I mention the speak clearly because sometimes "raise your right leg" brings a Pavlovian response. I've had students thank me for asking. Great article, good topic.

  7. Vianey Garay says:

    I totally agree with! I think its better to try to correct the student speaking rather than touching. I also think adjustments focus too much in your physical practice and let aside all the other things yoga implies.

  8. Amy says:

    My teachers taught me to ask every single time, even with a regular student, and only after verbal cues were unsuccessful. I think many people feel the way you do, but don't want to rock the boat and say "no." Thank you for sharing this!

  9. Amy says:

    I think that's a good policy. Thanks for your comment!

  10. Anna-Christina says:

    I am totally with you. I've had some great adjustments, and some that I found highly irritating. I do not offer adjustments in class, although I do like them in savasana and am toying with beginning to do them then. Thank you for speaking about this!

  11. Yes! Yes! Yes! I teach as well and have found the same thing!

  12. Joe Sparks says:

    Touch is very healing and for most of us, we are starved for it. And in my perspective, most of us never recieved lots of healthy touch growing up, because adults just touched us without our permission, including parents, so these old feelings will re- surface, when the situation is simllar to the earlier one.Being touched without permission. We do not realize how vulnerable we were as children. So, it is very important to be respectful and create clear, healthy boundaries with students. We bring alot of our old unresolved feelings to yoga. It is especially important in yoga to ask first and not act on those feelings. It is important to work on them because they will interfere with our ability to open ourself up to really connect in the present and heal ourselves. There is so much potential for yoga to be major catalyst for healing ourselves. Simple thoughtfulness and simple changes Transform what's hurtful to our benefiting. Good article!!

  13. Amy says:

    Thank you for these affirming comments. If you disagree, please feel free to share your thoughts, as well!

  14. Jinny says:

    Great article and as an instructor I completely agree … I don't mind being touched personally but only to be gently guided which is what I do in class myself. You can often just sense when people don't want to be touched I think. I was adjusted and hurt by a yoga teaching chiropractor – I think he really should have known better. I think people need to find their own way to open up. I was asked to 'help' someone into postures and I know really he wants me to force his body which I'm not going to do …. he needs to achieve the posture by any means necessary and I'm not going to facilitate that. Good writing, thank you. Horses for courses as with everything x

  15. Jinny says:

    …. also I look at people and give cues so they can self-adjust – this works really well x

  16. MatBoy says:

    I am afraid of getting adjusted by anyone I do not trust or have not studied with for a long time. I'm older and I do not want to get injured (again). Having said that, I usually go to yoga classes to learn more and refine my practice: in class I appreciate appropriate adjustments and suggestions from teachers. I often tell teachers directly that I do not want them to adjust me physically. I enjoy it when I can go deep into myself during a class but I find it much easier to do that during my personal practice.

    I do adjust my students during class, but not very often. Some students try too hard and go too deep into a pose and wind up collapsing somewhere, either their spine or onto their thighs. Putting students into better alignment often requires me to bring them a bit out of the pose; I usually ask them to relax and lengthen or to find some 'ease' before going any deeper. Adjusting just to touch students is not my style.

  17. Amy says:

    Thinking back, some of the most memorable (in a troubling way) adjustments I've received were when I was in down dog. You're already pretty vulnerable there and you can't see most of the room. Because the instructor approached from behind, I didn't see the touch coming and just kind of froze. Then, the question of "Is this OK?" didn't come until after the adjustment when my hamstrings and calf musles felt like they were ready to snap.

    I would have preferred a verbal cue and then an offer of a physical adjustment. Of course, I should have been honest and I think I would be today. A few years ago, I was more concerned about pleasing instructors and "performing" well.

  18. lisa says:

    i love receiving adjustments and giving them…however, most of my adjustments are more of the "touch point" variety, meaning the student may reach towards my hand rather than me manipulating their body into a shape. I always am cautious and never offer any adjustment stronger than a light back press during certain poses..and ONLY with prior permission.

    • Amy says:

      Sounds like a sensitive and healthy approach! Thanks for sharing. I know there are plenty of people who really appreciate the right sorts of touch in a practice. I think there has to be a level of trust and respect that's difficult to establish with a large group in a workshop setting. Difficult, but not impossible. I think Matthew Sanford was able to do this which is why I didn't mind his adjustments, even though they did make my heart beat faster!

      There have been lots of articles here about the teacher-student dynamic. Touch can intensify that and teachers need to be careful. Boundaries get trampled too often, I think.

  19. Tanya says:

    I find physical adjustments to be an invasion of my body space. I am also super sensitive – Empathic and Psychic – and when people touch me in yoga I pick up all kinds of stuff about them that totally disturbs my practice. I find partner work very disturbing as well, although I still enjoy doing it. Its hard to tune inwards when you are picking up all kinds of subtle energies that the average person is unaware of.
    I also teach and am super precise with verbal cues. Physical adjustment in my classes is a last resort, after giving verbal adjustments first and the student still just cant get it. If I know a student well and have discussed physical adjustment with them, to learn their preferences, I might do ones that I know they would enjoy. There is just too much individual preference and margin for error to apply an adjustment broadly to everyone. I always ask if an adjustment feels ok and have had students say no quite a few times. Sometimes when they say yes its ok, and I doubt them, I will ask if they're sure about that.

    If someone touches you and you don't want them to, its your own fault for not saying anything. You can't blame them if they ask you and then you lie to them in response. Even if they don't ask, you should say what you feel. Truth and non-harming are basic precepts of yoga from the sutras.

    • Amy says:

      I absolutely agree. But I think the onus is on the teacher to understand the possibility of projection or simple fear and vulnerability may prevent a student from feeling confident enough to object to an unwanted touch and sonto make it as clear and easy as possible to say no. Bless you if that has always come easily to you as a sensitive person. For others of us, it's excruciatingly difficult.

  20. Monica says:

    I'd let the teacher know at the start of the class – if you have (like I do) an ankle injury, you let the teacher know at the start of the class – why not also let them know that you're uncomfortable with being touched? I have a lovely teacher who will tend to call adjustments to a student rather than push/pull them – "longer stance, Monica", she says, or "You're spilling out your abdomen, tilt your hips back" – this takes longer and is more challenging for a teacher rather than poking or prodding the students, but I think it's a great practice because it also teaches you to notice, observe and then self-correct, rather than relying on teacher adjustment, so better for your own yoga practice as well. So yes, some good points raised, and I'd encourage you to communicate to your teacher at the start of the class that if you need an adjustment can they do it verbally rather than pushing you in to place.

    • Amy says:

      Yes, this is my intent. I have found it hard to do in workshops with well-known teachers so I have been avoiding them. I do sense that the "right" teachers for me would be receptive to this conversation.

  21. craig brosnan says:

    personally I like getting adjustment’s. It help’s me to get in to the asana deeper and/or correct alignment and I know exactly where I’m meant to be adjusting myself if someone is pointing it out to me by touching me. Unless some one is touching you in an inappropriate way I don’t have a problem with it. I say get over it. The teacher is proberly only trying to help you out and get you into correct alignment. Sometime’s to tell you verbally just isn’t quite good enough for me as I may not understand what they’re wanting me to achieve but by physically pushing or touching me I know exactly what is expected. I don’t have a problem with it.,…..Namaste.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks for your comment. For some of us, it's a bit more complex. If a certain touch left you (or a loved one) feeling unsafe and teary, I hope your advice wouldn't be to "get over it". I am open to exploring my fears, however, and trying to push the limits of my comfort zone.

      Turns out my SI joint is unstable (not uncommon among female yoga students). I think the aggressive pushes on my hips really did threaten my safety. If I could relax into the adjustment, breathe and communicate, it might be different; however, I have not found the courage to do that with intimidating teachers in the past.

  22. Amy Ippoliti Amy Ippoliti says:

    Thank you for writing this and sharing your experience of adjustments. It is so good for yoga teachers to hear this!! You are part of a percentage of people who do not want to be touched, and yoga teachers definitely need to remember that not everyone does! On the flip side when I have done informal surveys of yoga students on what they love most about yoga class, the majority said they loved it when the teacher gave them lots of hands on adjustments! (this was surprising to me). Joe's point above about how starved most people are for touch is a good one and perhaps explains the results of the survey. So it would seem that most people do enjoy adjustments, so what is a teacher to do? I wrote a few ideas down which I hope adds something valuable to this excellent conversation!

    1. Asking who does and does not want to be touched at the start of class is imperative – but also explaining why you are asking – ie. normalize the fact that some people don't like to be touched & that is why you are asking and let them know you won't take it personally if they say no!
    2. Educate your students by giving them permission to ask questions and tell you to stop if something does not feel good. Let them know they are responsible for speaking up and that you won't be offended. The teacher and student need to be more of a team since ultimately the teacher does not live inside the student's body! Let them know you are open to feedback and are not some all-seeing and all-knowing guru – (and if you are, they should run for the hills!)
    3. Always give verbal instruction of what the student can do to improve the pose before touching with hands. This way the student is empowered to try it themselves first, then the teacher can show with hands the exact movement.
    4. Err on the side of lighter touch rather than heavy handed, unless strong stabilization is needed to prevent someone from falling.

    Thanks again, Amy!

    • Amy says:

      And thank you, Amy! These are excellent tips and your endorsement will help them get implemented.

    • Erin Motz says:

      Agreed! In my own personal practice, the more the teacher wants to adjust me, the happier I am. But in my classes as a teacher, I generally "adjust" with the pressure of two fingers unless they specifically give me permission to do something more. A lot of times people just need a physical point in the direction that will work for them, so a very very slight touch is all that's needed.

  23. anaon says:

    whilst on my journey to becoming a teacher, two assistants touched or adjusted me to such an extent that i am now in laser therapy as a result of this. so post those experiences when teachers have come to adjust – i rarely allow them to touch me and similiarly i dont touch my clients. its either verbal or a light touch with the index finger with prior permission… so speak up

  24. yoginibee says:

    I am so happy to read this article and know that there are other people out there having this discussion. A couple of years ago, I could not find evidence of this type of consideration anywhere in the yoga community. I went to a weekend intensive with a travelling teacher who specializes in "the art of adjustments" as she called it. When I asked her what the purpose of her adjustments were, she said "I don't know, I guess it just feels good, right?" I was mortified that someone out there teaching on the subject at that level hadn't given her intention around it very much consideration. The whole experience lead me to write several seminars on the intentions, ethics, considerations, variety of perspectives on and purpose of touch in a yoga environment. It has been a very interesting and worthwhile exploration.

  25. Vivien says:

    Gosh yes, it's a big topic. I think everyone can resonate with your article Amy as even as teachers, we started somewhere as novices….where to draw the line. What jumps out at me most on the subject of adjustments, is that it can promote that feeling of 'I have to get the pose perfect' which goes against the grain for me. With millions of differing body shapes and ailments, there really can't be a perfect pose that fits all. And then….of course there's that line – can I help that person deepen their practice by adjusting right now. How can I help their alignment?
    I have been teaching corporates and within a work environment I have to be sensitive to how much adjustment is wanted, regardless of how much is needed. There will always be egos in the boardroom! But that asides, I think intuition has to play the biggest role here. Maybe someone has been adjusted enough, perhaps you can sense a student has come to the class closed off and wants to stay that way, or maybe a student knows exactly how the 'perfect pose' should be but just hasn't got the energy or the will today.
    I rarely adjust unless I feel a calling for it. Especially at the beginning, new yogis are still finding their way, understanding the Sanskrit names, just turning up is a big step for them. Let them find their way. Then when they are deepening their own practice, if you step in to adjust, there is already a connection, an understanding and a trust.

  26. kniplingsdyret says:

    Of course, nobody should be touched or adjusted without their consent. Your message about this issue is important. Some people do not wish to be touched, and they should be respected.

    However: I think yoga teachers who as a rule don't adjust, deprive students of valuable guidance. Not everyone has the courage to ask. Not wanting to touch people is a serious obstacle if you are a teacher. As a teacher, you should neither invade people's space or deprive them of what is a very important aspect in yoga. Just be sensitive and open.

    • Amy says:

      I'm not sure I agree that not touching my students inevitably deprives them of valuable guidance but I do agree that my extreme sensitivity to touch can be an obstacle to truly connecting with others, in yoga and elsewhere. Here's my follow-up .. .http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/02/touch-me-maybe/

      • kniplingsdyret says:

        What you're saying resonates with a lot of my own experience. When I started studying yoga, I hated being touched, so my teacher had to be really careful. But he helped me to understand that I actually needed to break out of the shell I had put around myself for protection. Being able to enjoy being touched and adjusted feels like a wonderful breakthrough for me, and I feel like a new person. Now he's teaching me to teach, and I was quite surprised to see how limited I still felt – touching OTHERS, even him, felt very strange to me. But I'm learning, and I see how important it is.

        We discussed adjustments today, and how to approach that area with respect and sensitivity. One thing he stressed, was that just because you're used to ONE teacher adjusting you, it doesn't mean that you have to allow EVERYONE to do it. And as a teacher, you should alwas ask first, and feel your way through it. Listen very carefully to the way students are breathing, and the way their muscles are working. Are they tensed? Then perhaps you need to back off. That sort of things. And strong adjustments should never be done on a student you don't know well.

        I come from the Ashtanga world, so obviously I think adjustments are crucial, but I also know that a lot of teachers will try to adjust without asking permission – especially the ones that are a bit "famous"! That is a problem, so I'm thankful that you're brining these issues up!

  27. [...] Recently, I wrote about my problem with hands-on adjustments. [...]

  28. Murray says:

    Great expression! Though i must point out here that adjusting is changing or altering ones physical position…whereas assisting has many different levels and usually relates to guiding someone/bringing attention to – rather than 'adjusting'. I agree with the philosophy of 'students need to find it themselves' over any other theory. However, In saying this i am in no way against assisting when needed nor am i afraid to go in and 'adjust' when needed. As teachers we know what it's like to see someone hanging from their joints in all manner of asanas! So i believe that each teachers is respected for their own manner. If you are not comfortable with being assisted then don't assist. If you are, then get in there – but with confidence, conviction AND sensitivity x

  29. [...] Somehow, I think this relates to the discussion about touch. [...]

  30. Lucy says:

    I agree with Amy Ippoliti in that there is a relationship between student and teacher and that there must be communication between the two. (I am a teacher also -I don't touch newcomers unless I ask -they always say yes, should I assume they are lying?) Yes, a teacher is responsible for being professional and asking first or giving verbal cues and using physical guidance if needed or asked for, but the student needs to take responsibility for themselves and tell the teacher if they are uncomfortable with it. Especially if you are going to be taking public classes, I would suggest taking the teacher aside before class begins and let them know your experience is best when not interfered with by physical adjustments. *Amy Taylor, if you have the verbal ability it takes to express yourself on a public forum I have complete faith that you have the ability to communicate to your teachers (famous or not) that you prefer not to be touched.

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