Why I Stopped Giving Assists in Yoga, Even Though I Love Them The Most

My love language is touch. It is how I express caring and how I most readily feel loved.  When practicing yoga in a class, being assisted is always one of my favorite parts. For most of the 6 years that I have been teaching, I’ve assumed that everyone wanted to be assisted, never asking preference at the beginning of classes. The honest reason, despite The Four Agreements teaching us to not make assumptions, is because I had just never given it any thought. Now with that being said, I do know that many of my students have expressed appreciation for assists and adjustments that I have given them, but still to generalize is an assumption. As of about a month ago, I decided to stop assisting in my classes, for a variety of reasons.

Most basically, when I learned about The 5 Love Languages, it deepened my realization of how we can all be a little different from one another. Some people just don’t like to be touched. Also, although I believe I am tuned in enough to another person so as to not cause pain or injury, I know that there are many instructors who are not and I also know that I could be completely wrong about the assessment I just made of myself, and would not want to cause pain to others.

On a deeper level, the rise of the #metoo movement brought a deeper awareness of this issue of trauma. According to NSVRC one in six men and one and three women have or will have experienced so form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Although many students have expressed gratitude for assists, some are just kind. By being kind, they may have not mentioned if I had somehow triggered an old trauma, and just kept that part to themselves. It is even possible that I have had students stop coming to my class or worse stop practicing yoga altogether for that reason.

With many women sharing their stories of sexual assault, and with the awareness that most of my students are women, I am reminded of a friend of mine from back in the day.  About a decade ago, when I had no understanding of trauma, I am reminded of a (platonic) friend of mine were very close, and we would give each other back massages. One day, I touched her on the back of her head, and she had a complete break down. Looking back on that experience now, combined with my awareness of the trauma that others carry around, and the understanding that any assist could cause a traumatic reaction, I’ve decided to no longer “assume consent.”

I understand that I could start a class by asking for permission to touch, but I don’t care for that for three reasons: (1) I believe people would tend toward putting their own wishes below what they may believe mine may be and they wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings (although it’s not easy to hurt my feelings), (2) my memory isn’t that great when my main focus is on keeping the flow of the class balanced and moving, and I would not want to forget who did or did not want to be assisted, and (3) people change their minds, and I imagine it would be very difficult for someone to express this change in class if not asked outright.

I like the idea of the yoga flip chip more so than asking who would or would not like to be assisted. A yoga flip chip is a visual tool that students use near their mat to give or take away permission to touch at any point during class. This would empower students to choose what they would like to happen throughout their flow, protecting them during times when they may feel more vulnerable (physically or emotionally) without them having to express their feelings aloud via verbal or gesture (raise a hand) confirmation for permission to touch. Perhaps with such chips where a person can give and take away consent anytime throughout class I would be inclined to go back to a more hands-on approach to teaching but until then you’re on your own.