What Does Yoga Have To Do With Consent?

This is hard for me to write on many levels. One: because I knew intellectually all of the reasons why physical adjustments can be problematic in a yoga class but I had not yet felt it. So up until today I thought that when I became a yoga teacher I would use physical adjustments in my classes because they have helped me push myself further, correct my poses, and just go a little deeper. Today my perspective has shifted. The Universe sent it’s lesson for me to learn.

I had heard some of my friends’ negative experiences with adjustments: the occasional creepy teacher or the inexperienced apprentice. One friend even told me her horror story that an apprentice went to adjust her downward dog, lifted her off the ground by her hips, and when she lost balance and came tumbling down on her face he told her that her arms weren’t strong enough and she should change her hand positioning- giving no acknowledgment to the fact that he caused her to fall.

Even then I was still into it.

Until today. I had a teacher that was really feeling herself. Now, I LOVE when women are feeling themselves. I love it. I support it. I coach it. However, this was the type of feeling yourself that you’re so far in you lose your connection with other people (which unfortunately happens a lot in “spiritual” spaces but that’s another post). That kind of feeling yourself I am not okay with. Because today she forgot that she was working with and putting her hands on human beings’ bodies. Mine included.

I watched in class as she gave adjustments to practitioners near me. She stood behind one student in Warrior II with her body touching theirs and ran her hand underneath that students diaphragm, a place that often holds trauma. It was as though they were participating in some sort of tango but it was hard to say if both people were into it. “That’s intimate,” I thought. “They must be a long time student.” I thought I’d be safe.

But in my 3 legged downward dog she came and put her hand on my shoulder as a reminder to square them off. That’s a safe touch. Great. Then with little warning, she prompted me to extend my leg farther not with her words but with one long stroke on my inner thigh from my groin to my knee. I lost my breath. I lost my pose. I became disheveled in what was supposed to be my 75 minute escape for the day. And, in that moment, every time a boy touched my leg without consent and without desire came back to me.

I say this not as a rant or to shame but as a reminder that consent is important in all of our relationships. With our partners, with our friends, with the young people in our lives, with strangers, and with our yoga students.

Consent does not just show up with physical touch. Think about the times when your loved one gave you advice when all you wanted was for them to acknowledge that your situation is crappy (or vice versa). This is really easy to do and also causes a lot of miscommunications and frustrations in relationships. Think about when you tried to pet someone’s dog without asking and the dog barks and snaps- whose fault is that? Have you every watched someone try to hug a child when they didn’t want to be hugged?

It is so easy to slip into our daily routine and forget that we are encountering living beings. We forget to be thoughtful. In a world where people are often made to feel powerless, considering consent in your daily interactions is one way to restore some balance.

Originally published at www.organicmccannic.com on December 6, 2016.

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