May I Touch You?

“You are your own expert. You have to walk out of here in your body, I don’t. If something doesn’t feel good, come out of it. If I touch you and it doesn’t feel good, say one word: STOP. I take no offense. This practice is for your benefit.”

I say something along these lines any time a new student walks into my studio. I repeat this to students who have been walking into my studio for years, to remind them.

The teacher/student relationship can be dangerous if the teacher is unaware of the power differential, or, is aware of it and uses it for his or her egoic satiation. 

I am acutely aware of my role as a teacher. I’ve created clear boundaries, down to the thoughts I have when I touch another person—they are pure. If I cannot translate pure thought as I adjust, I don’t adjust. Period.

I advocate dialogue during class. I keep the music low and we talk. We discuss what is working and what isn’t. As I adjust, I ask: “How does this feel? Is it too much?” They answer. I’ve created a circle of trust; my students know they can be honest with me.

Over the years, I’ve encountered (personally) and had other practitioners disclose to me, experiences where they have felt physical discomfort and pain during adjustments and/or emotional discomfort due to the palpable impure intention of the teacher adjusting. But, they don’t say anything to the teacher.

I write this to both of you: the teacher and the student.

Teachers, please take a moment at the beginning of class, before you cue the breath or the asana, to tell your students they have the right to say no to your touch. Every body is different and what might feel good to one person might be excruciating for another. Empower your students to stand up to you.

Students, don’t be shy; protect yourselves. You wouldn’t let someone you just met grope or prod you. No, you’d say something. Yoga class isn’t any different than the real world– say no if it doesn’t feel right!

If a teacher takes offense to your honesty, he or she is not someone you want to learn from. Trust me.

Students, you are your teacher’s teacher. We learn from you and if you never say anything, we will keep doing what we’re doing and inevitably injure other students, too.

We have a mutual responsibility to protect each other and to learn from each other.

Thank you. ~Rebecca

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