June 19, 2013

3 Rules for a Successful Give & Take. ~ Clare Politano

Physical Adjustments and Consent in the Yoga Room.

For six months now, I’ve assisted my teacher in the Mysore room most weekdays. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and I’m full of gratitude to my teacher, the studio owner, and our students.

Here’s what I’ve learned during this time about the give and take of physical adjustments.

1. Teachers: Before adjusting a student for the first time, make sure you know each other. Introduce yourself, dialogue about existing injuries or sensitivities, and ask for permission to give the student physical assistance with a pose.

One of the first mornings I assisted, a student with whom I wasn’t acquainted came up to me after her practice with some feedback that surprised me. She introduced herself and requested that in the future, could I give her a little warning before giving an adjustment in forward folds or down dog—positions where she couldn’t see me coming. Receiving unexpected adjustments in those postures was disturbing to her because of experiences she’d had.

Talk about a paradigm shift.

I realized working with trauma survivors wasn’t just for volunteers teaching underserved communities. Physical adjustments are relatively intimate work, and you never know what your students have been through. Before placing your hands on a student, establish a relationship and identify boundaries.

2. Teachers: While performing a physical adjustment on a student whose body you don’t know well, ask if it feels okay.

Sometimes adjustments inadvertently cause undue pain, but the student doesn’t know it’s alright to speak up, or doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. I used to submit to unnecessarily harsh adjustments from teachers because despite the alarm bells, I respected their authority and assumed that they were just doing what was best for my practice.

Some of those adjustments left me in pain for days. It took a long time for me to understand this wasn’t just a normal part of the practice, and an even longer time to realize those teachers would have been horrified to know they’d hurt me.

3. So, Students: Please tell your teacher if an adjustment is too much. Don’t worry about hurting our feelings, or damaging our pride. Believe me, a good teacher will be grateful that you spoke up. If a teacher happens to react badly—well, that’s good information, too.

It’s easy to opt out. As a teacher approaches, say “Not today.” If a teacher is pushing too far, try “That’s a little much.” There’s no requirement to explain your decision or apologize, although a dialogue after class might prove productive for both of you.

The truth is we don’t need consent cards to cultivate a safe and comfortable studio environment. We need communication, and the understanding that consent goes both ways. Teachers, ensure that your students feel comfortable. Students, give your teachers the information they need to assist you safely and effectively.

What would you add?


I live in Washington, DC, where I practice and teach Ashtanga yoga and assist two area Mysore programs.

A social media and communications professional by day, I’m passionate about nutrition, sustainability, cognitive psychology and behavioral economics. Massager of raw kale, hydration enthusiast and standing evangelist. Connect with me on Twitter.




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editor: Thaddeus Haas

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