Yes and No. “Xs” and “Os”

Wait – What are you doing?

Sam, here. Have you ever taken a yoga class and looked around noticing a teacher placing hands on the students’ bodies? The person next to you is folded in half and here comes the teacher, gently placing a hand on the back of the student’s neck. Have you ever heard the teacher say, “If you prefer not to be touched today, just place a hand on the belly?” In that sweet, final resting posture of the practice, you hear little footsteps on the hard studio surface, and all of the sudden the student to your left is moaning in what sounds like delight to have a neck and shoulder assist as they fall deeply into a sense of what you think echoes relaxation. Have you glanced at those charming little teal cards found near the yoga straps with the “X” on one side, and an “O” on the other? What does all of that mean? I thought I was here to move my body, catch a good workout, and now we are talking about someone touching me? Why?

Although physical assisting has some controversy in the yoga world, at Studio Rise, we believe hands on support can create such a powerful experience for the yoga practitioner. Human touch is a basic need, a primal desire, biologically engrained in human existence. As teachers, touch allows us to expand the verbal cues and allow the students that might be jumbled to really dive deep into a posture. Assisting also might allow the teacher to take on the exertion of a posture and let the student plunge into feeling a different piece of what’s presented. But, touch is complex… and touch is certainly not for everyone. So, how do we teach our students to use the power of permission to inform the guide in the room whether or not touch is tolerable today?

Touch, for me, has always been a hardship. I can remember as a child being required to give affection to others, friends and family, all of which made me feel uncomfortable. It seems society has pivoted from a hand-shaking community as a welcome to more of the warm embrace. I constantly find myself in the minority wondering why in the heck someone wants to shake my clammy palm, let alone hug my perspiring, anxiety ridden body. But, here we are in a world full of that sincere, awkward (for me) squeeze. My experience with touch hasn’t always been pleasant. As a trauma survivor, I constantly find myself in situations where a smell, a verbal cue, a shadow in the light can send my body into shock mode… a sudden freeze in what I think to be a safe, sacred space. The yoga practice has continually challenged my coping mechanisms and allows me, personally, to explore my struggles with trauma and be more open to utilizing touch as a way of healing… in my own time. The idea of heartfelt human hands on my body sounds pleasurable and comforting in some moments, and other times makes me want to physically vomit from the depths of my soul.

How do I find the balance between?

Yes, touch is primal. It’s something human beings need to survive, to grow, to love, to soften. However, we, as teachers, don’t necessarily know your story with physical touch. We don’t know what you have or haven’t endured in your lifetime, and our job is to hold a safe, nonjudgmental, welcoming space for you as you enter the studio. When you unroll the yoga mat, it’s our job to hold space for you to explore whatever comes up for you today. We stand at the front of the room and ask you to find space and comfort in your own skin, which can be incredibly difficult; and then we want you to be open to the idea of us putting our hands on that sacred body. That’s powerful! How do we empower you to explore the idea of touch, to take responsibility for what your body needs, but also to open you to the idea of this quite possibly transformative experience? The answer is simple….

Consent.

Consent is extremely important and necessary for anyone to touch you ever, and consent can be given in numerous ways. At Studio Rise, we understand that a teacher at the front of the studio, though we claim to be your guide, can appear to have a sense of influence over you. After all, we call ourselves teachers. In actuality, we are not dictating what you should and shouldn’t do with your body. It’s your body, your practice, your choice. But that power struggle still remains, and telling a teacher “no” can seem difficult and impractical. For me, social situations tend to create anxiety and the idea of telling someone I don’t want to do something when they ask is undeniably absurd! Mama always taught me to listen to the teacher, and now I’m going to tell this person no? Yeah, no thanks.

At Studio Rise, here are the ways you can give consent:

Grab an XO card from the bucket on the prop wall. When you’re feeling super touchy, feely that day, slap the card at the top of the mat on the “O” side. If touch is not your thing, keep it on the “X” side… and maybe you’re feeling different throughout the practice. Feel free to change it back and forth to your desire. After all, consent can be given and taken away at any moment. Consider consent like a sports game… there’s always an opportunity for a time out!

Talk to the teacher before class and let them know touch is not your jam. Create a relationship with the teacher. Introduce yourself. Get to know them. If you have a great teacher, they’ll do this step first! They’ll reach out to you. Studio Rise supports a community of inclusivity. We want to know your story. We want to help you feel comfortable and be a part of the ever-growing tribe!

If all else fails, say NO! Dig down deep, gather up all the courage you can suffice, and ask the teacher to back off. We will not judge you. We will not force you. We will respect your choice in your own body! We are the guide, not the dictator of your body. You know your body and mind best, and we admire that!

Physical assists can happen in a yoga class. We want you, I want you… our students, to be aware. If you do not find touch to be pleasant or comforting, it’s within your power and responsibility to let us know, in the way that feels most relaxed for you. We understand that can be uncomfortable and even painful in itself; however, we never want anyone to feel unwelcome or unsafe. We want to empower you to explore your body and to use your voice. This is a sacred space held just for you to explore, to practice, to surrender, to be. While we believe touch can be transformative and extremely intimate, we are aware and understanding that it might not be for you, today… tomorrow… or ever. And that’s ok!

2 Comments

  1. This is such an important topic + article! I’m a Zumba instructor and, even though that rarely (if ever) involves hands-on assistance, I’m more enlightened now as a body movement guide. Also, of course, cultivating clear communication and mutual respect of boundaries just makes all of us better human beings. Thank you for articulating the nuances so well and bravely speaking from your experience as a trauma survivor. 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Its a hard conversation. Important things often aren’t easy. But communication and respect are key! Thanks for chiming in and for your compassion and awareness.

      Liked by 1 person

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