I was taking a workshop with Trina Altman when I first heard the phrase "You are the boss of your body". I don’t know if she coined it but I’m going to give her credit for it. And here’s why I’m dedicating a whole week to the idea that you ARE the boss of your body.
Several years ago I read an article in which the author described an injury (torn hamstring perhaps?) that occurred when a teacher pushed her too deeply into a seated forward fold. The specifics of how the injury occurred are less important than the gist of the article, which was who was at fault in this scenario - the teacher or the student? I don’t have the answer and it probably lies somewhere between the two.
Perhaps the teacher pushed too forcefully. Maybe she neglected to ask the student if it was OK to push her deeper into the pose. It’s also possible that the teacher did everything right and the student, feeling an intense stretch approaching pain, neglected to say anything. Maybe the student had a pre-existing injury to that area and did not inform the teacher. Regardless, that story has stuck with me because I teach yoga and I do sometimes give hands-on adjustments to my students.
Apart from the potential legal ramifications, I would never want to be responsible for injuring a student. Period! So as a teacher I have a major responsibility to my students to proceed with extreme caution and with permission. That said, you, as my student, also have a major responsibility to me. You see, I can’t know everything that has gone on or is going on in your body. And I can’t feel what you’re feeling. We need to each do our part to ensure a safe and beneficial practice.
In defense of yoga teachers, we do tend to place our hands on our students, sometimes without prior consent. And we need to do a better job of asking first. The term “hands on” may refer to something as simple as the teacher gently taking hold of your wrist to turn your hand to face a different direction. A fairly non-invasive touch but a touch nonetheless. “Hands on” may mean holding your thighs or hips or shoulders. Or maybe holding the sides of your head. There are other hands-on assists that can be, shall we say, a bit more intimate. In the earlier example of the injury, the teacher may have actually been lying on top of the student, using her own body weight to press the student deeper into the fold.
In the wake of the #metoo movement, YOU ARE THE BOSS OF YOUR BODY. No one ... including your yoga teacher ... should touch you anywhere or in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable! And you have the right...no, the responsibility to make that known. Any yoga teacher who disregards your request not to be touched should not be your yoga teacher.
So, how can you, as a student, be clear about your boundaries regarding a teacher touching your body.
Introduce yourself to the teacher prior to class, if possible. Ask if he/she does hands-on assists. If the answer is yes and you are not comfortable with that, say something like, “I understand that hands-on assists can be very helpful to students. I’m fairly new to yoga and at this point I really don’t feel comfortable being touched during class. Will I still be able to participate in your class?”
If a teacher approaches you during class and reaches out to touch you, either remind him/her (if you’ve spoken earlier) of your preference not to be touched or stop what you’re doing and say “I’d prefer not to be adjusted, thank you.” That should do the trick and the teacher should acknowledge your request.
If the teacher does not respect your request, you have the right to leave class and request a refund. This is an extreme example and hopefully you'll never find yourself in this position. And I’m not saying make a huge issue out of it but definitely don’t stay. Share your experience with the studio manager, either in person or in writing.
If you are open to hands-on assists, be sure to do the following:
Approach the teacher prior to class (if possible) to inform him of any injuries that may require special attention. Remember, your teacher is not a doctor and cannot diagnose or prescribe. But he may be able to offer alternatives to postures that aggravate the injury and will know not to adjust you in those poses.
Speak up during adjustments. Hopefully the teacher will check in with you with phrases like, “Is it ok if I place my hands on your back?”, “Is that pressure OK?” or “On a scale of 1-10, how intense if this stretch?” If the teacher does not check in, you still need to speak up if an adjustment causes sudden sharp pain, tingling or numbness, feels too intense or starts to feel inappropriate. Do not “tough it out” or feel embarrassed. Speak up. Why? Because YOU ARE THE BOSS OF YOUR BODY!
Next Time: Don't Get Bent Out of Shape about Flexibility