February 6, 2013

Get Your Hands Off Me!

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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