I usually practice yoga at home but this week I went to a couple of led classes, just to kick-start myself back again after Christmas. In both classes the respective teachers gave me adjustments that felt intrusive and unhelpful, and both times, I was the only person in the class to receive an adjustment.
I realised afterwards that I was probably the most ‘advanced’ student at these classes. I think the teachers saw me, could tell that I had been practicing yoga for a while, and therefore assumed that I was comfortable receiving adjustments. Unfortunately they were totally wrong as both times I felt that boundaries had been crossed. Just because I have my downward dog down to a t doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with your fingers in my armpits!
It did give me food for thought though – I think I’ve made the same mistake myself when teaching, certainly in the early days when I wanted to adjust all the time, fresh from having just learned how. Now I’m noticing that the more I teach, the less I adjust physically. Giving verbal adjustments can almost always bring the student into good alignment, and physical adjustments are only for students I know and who are comfortable with me – regardless of what their level is!
Sensitivity around touching someone else’s body is a kind of intelligence that most people have, but that not everyone tunes into. It’s always a good thing to ask before touching someone, whether you’re in a yoga class or a social situation, but I think that if you are fully tuned in and present, you should know instinctively whether or not someone is comfortable being touched. Their resistance, or their acceptance, is one of those invisible things in the air you can feel.
With children, it’s easy – they make it very clear how comfortable they are with you physically, whether they want a hug, a high-five, or just want to stay a few feet away for the moment. They always make it clear through physical cues or even verbal cues where their boundaries are. Even so, I’ve often seen adults forcing children into unwanted hugs or kisses, or trying to comfort a crying child by going over-board on physical affection, just making them more upset in doing so!
As a massage therapist I’ve learned that sometimes people will decide mentally that they are happy to be touched, but that their body does not agree! They try to relax, but the body just won’t let go.
Breaching of sexual consent, as with all violence, comes from a place of disconnect between mind and body. If you are fully mindful, present and aware, you can’t convince yourself that someone wants to be touched in a way that they don’t. However if you are not present and tuned in, violence has a space to grow- be it towards yourself or others.
Sensitivity of touch is an intelligence that can grow easily if we just listen to it. But before you can tune into others’ boundaries, you must tune into your own – for example, not forcing yourself into a yoga pose you’re not ready for yet. The more respect you have for your own body, the more respect you will have for other bodies around you.