I am going to let you in on a dirty little yoga secret. Somebody, at some point, who was on the yoga mat next to your’s came to yoga class just for the teacher’s delish adjustments and assists. Could be, your next-mat neighbor rates a class on whether or not the teacher “picks” them for a pose tweak. Is it time for an attitude adjustment about the touch of the yoga teacher?
A reputable yoga teacher is a bit like the journalist. One must be mindful of the who, what, where, when and how to touch a student. Safety, the student’s “approach me/don’t approach me” vibe, appropriateness, even the appearance of inappropriateness are just a handful. The teacher’s training background plays a hand (sorry). Some training programs encourage a more aggressive approach. No pussy-footing, let them know you are there, get in there, get out. Others encourage an almost hands-off method, with verbal cues taking the lead. And, sad, but true, the possibility of litigation can determine whether or not a teacher offers physical adjustments.
I was reminded of this today when I read Mark Morford’s brilliantly titled post, “Get over here and touch me now.” Morford, who is a San Francisco yoga teacher as well as a sublimely witty journalist, issues a call to rise on the topic of touch:
Here’s what I think. I think human touch is surely the most sublime sensation/activity ever invented by ecstatically drunken gods as they gently and ever so briefly encased us in these slippery filthy gorgeous mortal fleshforms.
I think human touch, done with calm intention and conscious ease, is a total life-affirming blessing of the most spiritually orgasmic kind, healing and restorative and achingly transcendent in quiet but thoroughly kaleidoscopic ways.
As a yoga teacher, I take care to take care when adjusting students. I take safety and propriety into consideration, but hope not to withhold. Not to withhold deepening my human connection to those in my care, not to sweep my safety knowledge under the mat–I’ve seen students injured when a teacher didn’t tame their zeal for Wheel pose. But my more enduring, endearing memories during a class are of the moments I’ve seen a student glow with sweetness after I’ve, say, helped them soften their arms away from their body in Savasana. As Morford so blunty-sweetly puts it,
An attentive touch carefully placed can pretty much calm everyone the f–k down.
Now’s your chance. As a teacher or student, where do you weigh in? To touch, or not to touch on the mat?