I'm trying something new this week. I had the included images printed onto square cards at moo.com. A while back I saw these content cards on It's All Yoga Baby, and they've stuck in the back of my mind, until recently. Historically, I have not used very much hands-on assists in my classes. My primary goal as a teacher is to empower people to find freedom through doing their yoga practice. Doing asanas (postures) and going through flows are tools to get into the experience of being and breathing in your body and connecting with the flow of universal, divine energy. In my experience as a practitioner, having some one touch me, especially to "correct" something that looks wonky on the outside can totally disrupt a magical internal movement. I want to people to feel it out on their own and become more confident in their inner teacher.
That being said, the feedback I got from my last round of yoga teacher trainees is that I should do hands-on assists more! They found it relaxing, enhanced their experience, and told me I had a gentle, healing touch. So what to do? I started doing more assists in my classes but I still don't feel 100% comfortable about it.
There's simply no way to tell for sure how people will respond. I find it problematic that the current culture is that by simply walking in the for of a yoga student, it is assumed that you are OK with being touched. (More great discussion on yoga and consent at Decolonizing Yoga) People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons. People may be healing from trauma or abuse, and may not feel like they're able to say, "please don't touch me" in a class. Even if there's nothing else going on, some people, like me, might just rather have the space to do their own thing. In a perfect world, I ask every time before I touch someone, do the assist, then have a conversation about it. "How does that feel?" But in a vinyasa class, where I'm trying to keep a pretty vigorous pace going, there isn't time to stop the action. So, still, I generally err on the side of less touching.
But there is of course benefit to hands-on assists! It's nice to connect with fellow human beings and to feel loved though touch. Some people like some extra help squeezing the last bit of juice out of a twist or getting a little back massage in child's pose. Some people are kinesthetic learners and need to feel in their own body what "rotate your chest more towards the sky" means.
A little card on the mat means you can choose when you'd like to be touched and when you'd rather be left alone to do your own thing. You're not going to be singled out. No questions. No right or wrong choice. You can change your mind as many times as you like in one class. As always, in my class you have the freedom to do what feels good to you.
If you're a teacher feel free to download the images and use in your classes, too.