Image from Robert Collins (unsplash.com)

YOUR BODY, YOUR BOUNDARY

CONFESSIONS OF AN EX-YOGA TEACHER

I was a moderately touchy yoga teacher, but if I were still teaching today I’d be much less enthusiastic about ‘adjusting’ my students.

At their best, adjustments can give a yoga student a profound body/mind ‘ah ha’ moment. Bones, muscles, breath…suddenly everything aligns and you feel at one with the pose. At their worst, they can cause injury or feelings of abuse.

When I was studying to be a teacher, I never questioned my teachers. They pulled, twisted, lifted, stretched, even sat on me as they tried to coax me into the correct alignment or a new understanding of a pose. Not once did I assert myself — “I’m nursing a sore hip…” or “I’ve got my period…” or “Actually, that doesn’t feel okay…”.

Then I started teaching, and realized there was power in my hands as well as my words. But it didn’t always go well. One student started to cry with panic as I placed the soles of her feet together in baddha konasana (bound angle pose). I stopped immediately, of course, and she explained it was ‘just a thing’. She’d felt that way since she was born. We worked out she could do the pose comfortably with a blanket between her feet.

Another student tore her shoulder muscles in a supported relaxation pose when I put an eye-pillow on the palm of each hand. It was supposed to be a pleasant, very light weight to help her release tension. I was informed later (not by her…she never came back to class) that she was a victim of abuse and my ‘adjustment’ freaked her out.

It’s soooo tempting as a teacher — you see a knee that’s turned the wrong way, a hip that could open a little more, shoulders that are uncomfortably close to ears — especially when your words don’t seem to be having an impact.

Is it a good idea, though? How well do you know your student? At the very least, do you ask before you touch? Can you read their body language? They may even mumble ‘yes’ when they actually want to say ‘no’.

The great irony of modern yoga is that we’ve taken what was intended to be an individual journey guided by a chosen guru, and turned it into a herd activity. Yoga classes can be crowded. Students (and their individual needs) can get lost. Some teachers don’t want to leave the front of the class, to move around and see what’s actually going on.

There’s also a danger of peer group pressure as students try to hold poses as long as everyone else in the class, despite the warning twinges from their bodies. I know because that’s how I first approached yoga. An underweight, hyper flexible weakling, I would place my mat beside the strongest male student in the class. If he stayed in handstand, I stayed in handstand. If he stayed in warrior pose, I ‘warriored’ it out beside him. I grew strong, but I didn’t win any prizes for my understanding of yoga philosophy.

Holding your own as a student, listening to your body respectfully, in the face of the inherent power differential between the teacher and student is really hard. I get it.

But please, stand up for yourself and your boundaries. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied by over-enthusiastic adjusters. And if it doesn’t feel right, find another teacher. Respect yourself.

Inhale deeply. Exhale completely…let your whole body relax.

Thanks for reading.