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August 14, 2019

Yoga Teachers, Stop Touching your Students.

 

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*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and cannot possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

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It’s either a fear or a flow of excitement for a new yoga teacher to be taught adjustments.

The often-incorporated step into yoga teacher trainings that teachers are encouraged to do (with little to no anatomy training) is to move a student’s body around without knowledge of their circumstances and limitations.

I have seen a lot evolve over the years as a yoga teacher. And a lot has changed in 15 years of teaching.

One thing that has drastically changed for me is my involvement with my students on the mat while I teach.

I will admit that in my earlier years in teaching, I taught a great class—very soulful and inventive—but I was naive. I knew little about the body and about how the body moves, should move, and doesn’t move. I was taught parts and poses; I was not taught people. So, to fulfill my yoga teacher training requirements, I learned adjustments.

Moving a person’s foot here, guiding their knee there, trying to gracefully fight against their tight hips to create an experience of “openness” to the level I thought it should be—all based on poses and parts.

Can we just say that this is not okay?!

By the grace of God, my teaching style has evolved and so has my level of education. I, now, have come to a place as a yoga and movement guide to truly believe that it is not okay to physically touch, adjust, or maneuver a person’s body (no matter how much you think you know) during a yoga class.

Think about it: every other person who “adjusts,” “manipulates,” or “presses and pulls” on people has a license.

Let me list it out for you:

>> Massage Therapists
>> Physical Therapists
>> Medical Doctors
>> Cosmetologists
>> Aestheticians
>> Registered Nurses
>> Chiropractors

All need state-approved licenses to touch their clients. Yoga teachers do not. And although yoga has a way of making one feel God-like, the reality is, we are not.

Because, yes, you can get hurt in yoga. And if by chance someone does, as a yoga teacher, it is best it not be by your hand.

If you are a yoga teacher, one thing you can always ask yourself is: “Why do I feel the need to make the adjustment?”

I spent seven years teaching yoga teacher trainings, and one thing I have changed is how I teach teachers to approach students.

My process is simple:

1. Verbally instruct and demo with clear instruction what the student should be doing.

If you notice a student does not understand…

2. Verbally specify what the group of students should focus on, and point it out on your own body (and possibly ask the entire group to watch).

If you notice that a student still does not understand…

3. Verbally instruct and direct one-on-one, meaning, go over to the student and, from behind, verbally guide them and use markers to help them guide their own body where it may need to go.

If you notice that student still doesn’t understand…

4. Mirror them one-on-one, so they see you directly with no distractions, and ask them to focus in on a specific area. (Note: steps three and four can be done interchangeably.)

If by chance you feel multiple students are just lost in translation…

5. Call a “freeze” moment for the entire class and take five for a mini breakdown clinic where you can teach everyone step-by-step in a more interactive way.

The above has proved time and time again to be a simple, safe, and legal way to help guide your students where you want them to go. This should always be done with an understanding that not all bodies move the same way, so you may be asking something of someone who just will never be able to do it, no matter how many hip openers he or she does.

I know that during my years of teaching, some of my teachers were disappointed that I did not teach many hands-on adjustments, and the immediate “need to go out and learn them” was apparent with some of my student-teachers, sadly without even having any teaching experience under their belt perfecting the above.

I have spent more than half my life interacting with people solely on a yoga mat, and one thing I have learned is that less is more. And when we adapt this to our class, what ends up happening is we facilitate our students to be self-responsible.

We can request that they cultivate a sense of self-awareness, in that I could move your knee out to the side 100 times and you will still never remember to do it.

But if I request your awareness of the maneuver and give you a valuable reason why to explore this and ask you to do it yourself, you will more than likely do it one or two times and remember forever, which may just be another benefit of practicing yoga in a more hands-off way.

I will admit, in my earlier years, I had a deep sense of ego-driven pride when I would move a student’s body and they would respond in “wow” and amazement of the release or challenge I brought to their practice.

To those people, I pray that I never hurt you or manipulated your tissues in a way that caused later issues. If your body wasn’t willing to go there on its own, I should not have brought it there.

Naive to a great deal of the legalities of what goes into being a yoga teacher, my eyes were opened wide when I opened my own yoga studio, and then in running my own yoga teacher training.

Still not on board? It is not uncommon for yoga teachers to not invest in liability insurance to cover the act of teaching yoga. And if you have liability insurance, ask your provider if they specifically cover injuries inflicted by you, the yoga teacher. You may be surprised to find that they do not.

The good news:

Take a load off, yoga teachers!

Take a load off in that you are not responsible for your students’ bodies. They are responsible for themselves, something I think we all often forget about in today’s world. On a certain level, we are responsible for ourselves (a little yoga philosophy may help enhance this point).

I’m sure my students wonder why I don’t adjust them much anymore, and the truth is:

Legally, I shouldn’t.

Physically, I shouldn’t.

Mechanically, it’s not my place.

…and energetically, one must be ready for change, because if the body is holding on, there must be a reason, and instructing a dozen others in a group setting is not really the place to figure that out.

So, am I saying yoga needs to be state-regulated? Not necessarily. But what I am suggesting is that all yoga teachers step back, reflect, and ask, Is it necessary? Is there a better, safer way to help our students?

And if the answer is “No,” then maybe that student should consider a different style of class—a private class or complementary therapies like massage or physical therapy to help that issue resolve itself.

What if giving a little less will actually, in the end, give more?

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author: Hope Zvara

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