Just to be clear. YOGA MATTERS IS A ‘NO TOUCH STUDENT’ YOGA SCHOOL. Someone recently asked me to physically move them into a position for which I declined. Not just because of cv protocols or recent era we have lived through in the Yoga world, but because we don’t do that anymore and haven’t for the longest time. (Never say never; who knows maybe we will again one day, but I don’t see that anytime soon). Once upon a time I occasionally helped a practitioner ‘modify’ a ‘posture’ using the kind of touch that does not require force or pressure but was actually more a ‘lifting people out’ of their own wrong forcing in the wrong direction OR giving a subtle nudge in the right direction, usually on the more foundational stuff e.g. perhaps helping with a hand between the shoulder blades to lift out of wrong depth/form to access a lift at the chest in half moon to stop it collapsing entirely OR changing the arm position of the holding arm for standing bow pulling to make the grip safer OR simply help them relax their shoulders OR a Savasana adjustment or occasionally (rarely) assisting our more adept practitioners in a forward fold to help them feel where they should be working from; always the same kind of subtle assist but not doing the work for them. But I stopped doing that about 4/5 years ago…
ASIDE FROM MATTERS OF SAFETY OR ‘MINDLESS’ UNECESSARY ACTIONs where we may interject verbally, WE REALLY DON’T WANT TO INTRUDE OR DISTRACT ON AN INDIVIDUAL’S PERSONAL YOGA EXPERIENCE AND EMPOWERMENT on their personal journey of discovery. We are qualified in other Yoga disciplines where assists are part of the modus operandi however Bikram method training was always a ‘no touch’ Yoga School training. It was reiterated again and again: No physical adjustments; we must not touch students.
Whilst I meandered away from that for a while following subsequent TTCs, over the years I have come to ‘RE-appreciate’ the reasons obvious and not so obvious for that particular piece of ‘no touch’ training. Whilst we understand in certain scenarios the power of touch as a positive and healing force, it is important to mull over the ‘idea of concerns’ surrounding touch/physical adjusts in a Yoga class environment regarding: trauma, consent and indeed effectiveness in the short/long term (as well as more recent cv protocols). Ultimately it is for the individual yoga instructor/studio to decide what they are comfortable with and let their students know. Many instructors and students feel it is already an implied part of a Yoga environment; indeed when we did use touch in the past we worked from that place (implied), but passage of time and teaching A LOT means you may come into contact with some/many students who are operating from a totally different experience and viewpoint on this and they don’t always communicate that to you. We feel we have to take that ‘lack of possible relevant communication of information’ into account.
Here is just one tiny example/dilemma of why no touch: whilst some students may not care at all about whether the teacher touches them (their cultural norms) and don’t even understand the idea that it could be a concern and they want what they think will be a short cut to experience their ultimate pose, there may be another student who, altho’ they have given permission in that split second for the ‘assist’ the teacher is offering, may have felt hijacked into giving permission in such a public forum (the class) with so little time. (Of course there are studios/instructors that establish consent in advance which is an excellent practice if touch/adjusts are part of their teaching strategy). I remember a studio (off Island) where the lovely instructor used to walk around to every individual when we were laying on our bellies and ‘walked on our feet’. I absolutely LOVED it (anything to do with giving my feet attention is my FAVOURITE); I couldn’t get enough of it. I would go to class just for that! (I think I did it once myself in a class 20yrs ago (using student’s towels) to share the experience with my own students). HOWEVER. there was also the little annoying monkey creep into my head to spoil any ‘total’ enjoyment of it (monkey: does she have a verruca, she didn’t check if I had a verruca, did the person she stood on before me have athlete’s foot, we could be swapping ‘conditions’ here… mmmmm). She did the same for Darren. He hated, absolutely hated it, he does not like having his feet touched. Ok. so this was not really a Yoga adjustment/assist, it was more like a massage but still, it was ‘touch’ in a Yoga class setting. 3 things in this scenario; consent was not established, there was a little hygiene/cross contamination ‘possibility’ and, finally but not least, I was previously in a personal beautiful Yoga zone but the minute she unexpectedly walked on my feet my ‘other brain’ kicked in (verruca etc etc) interrupting my brain’s down time.
SIMPLY, WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON WITH A STUDENT PHYSICALLY, EMOTIONALLY OR SPIRITUALLY IN A PARTICULAR MOMENT. There are so many reasons a student may not be following our verbal cues or integrating a piece of re-direction that we just delivered but we feel we do not have to get involved physically and adjust them every time.
WE SET OUR BOUNDARIES FOR WHAT WE ARE OFFERING. Each class has its own dynamic and ‘unknown quantities’ (individual’s deeply personal ‘stuff’ and histories unknown to the instructor). REMEMBER many people do not declare trauma and do not wish to; so they are an ‘unknown’ to us. We, weirdly, endeavour to try and factor in that ‘unknown’ by erring on the side of not triggering trauma that we may never get to know or hear about and, if you like, protecting the lowest common denominator (even just one unknown person) in the class. That ‘factoring in’ has become part of HOW we offer our practices/tuition.
A PERSPECTIVE OF A YM YOGA INSTRUCTOR: There is so much trauma in our society today; too much for us to be able to dig deeply into during a class setting: consider the frequency of teaching for the teacher (every day), the duration of class (90mins), the preparation for the class (hours prior), the rigours of the class, the after class party in reception 🙂 and all the OTHER individual needs that we have to consider and provide as a basic standard of service. We had to draw a line at ‘opt in/opt out’ of touch or bespoking touch/adjustments for individuals on this very particular front. We are only limited humans; others who provide more infrequent or shorter classes or one-to-ones may be better placed to have more options that they can get involved with ‘energy wise’ on that front. Whether you agree or disagree, like or otherwise, at least you will know what you can expect at/from YM.
WE DECIDED SOME TIME BACK TO MOVE FORWARD TRUSTING THE POWER OF OUR VERBAL CUES and no longer offer the physical assist. We felt this the best and safest approach to dealing with this potential problem of the ‘unknown’ factor. Essentially all we did was drive back to our Bikram method ‘teaching roots’ after a brief diversion. We then took a new path of endeavouring to broaden our vocabulary/expressions (still working on that) and demos as some people respond differently to different words/cues/visuals and WE ACCEPTED that in the moment even the cue/visual may not ‘assist’ the occasional student who has not yet developed their body/mind connection AND THAT IT IS OK that they did not get the idea today as they were not hurting themselves and we would never have given that person a physical adjustment in the past anyway because there was a great chance they would not have understood what it meant in the moment. There is always tomorrow. It is a journey after all, not a destination.
IN THIS TEACHING METHOD THE YM MIRROR SURROUND COMES INTO ITS OWN. Not only can the student use them for checking and modifying their own form, WE can also see our students from every angle; what they are choosing to do (or not do) in the moment to access their body and ultimately the benefits. Even when we cannot see a part of their body (say if they are laying on their belly/arms under, we can still tell from the positioning of other anatomical endpoints if they have set up correctly) and we can offer the verbal adjust for them to use (or sometimes not).
WHEN WE HAVE PEOPLE ON THEIR MAT WE SIMPLY WANT THEM TO DISCOVER THEIR DIRECTION FOR THEMSELVES and we want to be their witness as they do this. That moment of ‘noticing’ and realizing something for yourSelf is full of JOY. We really don’t want to take away that feeling. AS AN INSTRUCTOR TO WITNESS OTHER PEOPLE HAVE THAT ‘DAWNING’ IS SIMPLY PRICELESS.
Om Om Om YM Championing No Touch Skills 😉