As someone who appreciates a helpful (and totally optional) assist or adjustment from a Yoga instructor to help optimize my time on the mat, I wanted to give one of my favourite instructors Jamie Bell from Yogathletix, an opportunity to share her thoughts on a topic that has been hitting the headlines in a negative way. Here’s what she had to say:
In light of the recent articles and blogs floating around that outline the potential harm of yoga teachers “touching clients,” I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the subject.
First, let me start by explaining the difference between how I see assists and adjustments in yoga classes. I consider assists to be moments of hands-on touch to make a pose feel that much better without it being fundamentally changed; a gentle press of the hips down and back during child’s pose or a light pull of the legs in savasana. Adjustments on the other hand require more knowledge of anatomy because they often move the body to correct the position or to deepen the pose; such as a warrior 2 adjustment where the front knee is drawn out which externally rotates the front leg to put it in the proper alignment or in a seated or reclined twist in which the adjustment increases the spinal rotation. I agree that both assists and adjustments should only be given by teachers who completely understand what they are doing as well as completely understand the client’s limitations, history, needs, desires, and so forth.
That being said, yoga teachers get a bad reputation for not understanding anatomy. However, I can confidently say my 200-hour yoga teacher training was very thorough in anatomy, assists, adjustments, safety, and understanding the client prior to physically engaging with them. And although it’s not a requirement for yoga teaches, I know several, including myself, that have degrees in Kinesiology or related fields. This doesn’t mean there aren’t uneducated teachers out there. The key is for a teacher to know their own limits before attempting to understand the client’s.
In addition to the benefits of safe and responsible assists and adjustments during class, there are several benefits of offering more moderate non-sexual touch experiences, such as giving a little neck massage in a forward fold or savasana. As human beings, we are meant to touch and be touched; physical contact is what distinguishes human beings from other animals. While reading this article, I was reminded of a study whereby caregivers attended to the physical needs of babies but provided no affection. Shockingly, after only a few months and with no physiological causes, some infants died. The study was soon shut down. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that it’s a yoga teacher’s job to ensure people don’t die from lack of affection. But in today’s tech-saturated society, I consider it a blessing that we as teachers can foster this type of touch in a yoga studio.
Psychology today writes:
“But in a tech-saturated world, non-sexual human touch is in danger of becoming rare, if not obsolete. Despite the benefits of digital advancement, it is vital to preserve human touch in order for us truly to thrive.”
The same article outlines all of the benefits of non-sexual physical touch including: decreased violence, greater trust between individuals, economic gain, decreased disease and stronger immune system, stronger team dynamics, more non sexual emotional intimacy, greater learning engagement, and greater overall wellbeing. See the full article here.
Am I alone here in thinking, “if only everyone could disconnect in a studio for an hour and experience some daily touch even if only in the form of a little neck, temple or foot massage?
Having the great fortune of being a yoga teacher, I will continue to offer the gift of touch in my classes. And I would just like to say to all the yoga teachers out there who are also comfortable with offering hands-on methods from a place of intention, please keep doing what you are doing; our world needs more touch!
One final note I would like to make is that regardless of the teacher’s qualifications, all students should be given the option to receive safe hands-on assists and adjustments. It is good practice for teachers to always request at the beginning of class if there are any clients that do not want to be touched. Personally, I like to ask them to discretely let me know with a wave during child’s pose or lift a leg from down-dog.
Big huge thanks to Jamie for sharing her insight and intentional touch! I appreciate both immensely.
I’m also super excited to announce that I have teamed up with Yogathletix to offer a Nutrition Kickstarter package to help you rock your fitness and nutrition goals in 2018! Together we are offering a nutrition kickstarter & yoga package which includes 3 sessions with me and 30 days of unlimited yoga and fitness classes! If you’re into feeling top notch and kicking ace, check it out and I’lll see you on the mat. Learn more here.