DevaTree Blog

Sacred Space: The Impact of Uninvited Touch

Posted By Gabby on Jul 16, 2019

On a recent island vacation, I was excited to attend a local yoga class because my hips weren’t too pleased with all the sitting from travel. The studio was light, bright, and beautiful and my hips thought “Oh yes. We’re in the right place!” As a drop-in, I slipped in quietly and got ready to embrace the class.

Everything started so lovely with a wonderful introduction to the class and to my delight the teacher brought out balls! If any of you know me, you know the balls (for releasing muscles) are my greatest love! It’s like the Universe knew exactly what I needed to take care of my travel aches.

We were guided to place the ball in our mid-back and remain still.

While this would typically feel great, I knew I needed something different for my body that day. In listening to my body, I moved the ball to focus on my hips.

What happened next took me completely by surprise.

I was enjoying my own experience while hearing the teacher repeatedly encourage the class to keep the ball in the area and be still, as instructed.

Believing I had the right to continue in my experience I carried on with eyes closed, focused on my hips as needed.

Unbeknownst to me the teacher approached my mat and, all of a sudden, I felt hands on my body and the teacher informing me that I was in the wrong spot as she proceeded to remove the ball. Before I could reply, she was rolling me over and moved the ball higher while pushing my knee into my chest with a confident “There! This is where you need to be.”


I’m not sharing this story to disparage this teacher as I believe she had good intentions and was trying to help. It’s possible that in her tradition, it’s perfectly acceptable to intervene without checking in with students first.

That said, after this happened my sense of safety vanished for the remainder of the class.

This experience highlighted for me the significance of not only creating safe space in a yoga class but also maintaining it throughout, especially if you’re placing your hands on someone’s physical body.

I rarely turn down a hands-on assist—but I need to be asked first!

Being asked if I would like to receive assists creates an immediate sense of safety because I feel seen, respected, and know my needs will be honored.

Looking back, I wish I had spoken up and told the teacher that she actually created a sharp pain in the spot where I “was supposed to be.”

As I reflect on this experience, I’m amazed how this invasive touch took me so off guard it stole my voice. 

I realized it’s my pattern to be silent when I don’t feel safe. 

It’s imperative to have permission to touch our students—especially if we’ve just met them. 

It doesn’t matter what I want as a teacher. Just because I may love to offer assists does not mean that I can bypass one of my guiding principles as a teacher—nothing trumps a student’s safety! 

Touch is sacred and can have a bigger impact than we realize. 

What are your experiences with uninvited touch? I’d love to hear your thoughts, in the comments below.

Much Joy,


Gabrielle Ananda Rickman teaches DevaTree’s 50-hour Core Curriculum Hands On Assists course, which begins Sept 12th. 

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10 Comment(s)

Brenda Mcmorrow on July 16, 2019
Gabby, thank you so much for this important sharing and reminder to all of us about creating a safe and supportive environment and about listening to our own inner guidance
Gabby on July 17, 2019
Thank you Sweet Brenda!! It was a new experience for me full of learning on so many levels. It's moments like this one when I come back to wise words I have heard from you about how powerful our voice is - no matter what it sounds like! ~Gabby xo
Bija on July 16, 2019
Wow, what an intrusive experience! I am reminded of a yoga class I had completely forgotten about —it was a wonderful experience with a traditional Indian teacher and was more regimented than I was used to. It wasn’t a physical assist, but a “correction” of my breath that threw me for a loop... He told me that I was incorrectly utilizing Ujayi breath and to change my breathing. He made the suggestion in a gentle manner but it felt so strange to be told I was breathing “wrong”... I am forever grateful for my DevaTree foundation of learnings —yoga is deeply personal and we all deserve the right to be who we are and give ourselves what we need in any moment:)????☮️????
Gabby on July 17, 2019
Wow! Thanks for sharing Bija! I found myself rationalizing the experience by trusting the intention of the assist was coming from a heart-centered place but in the end it still felt exactly as you described - intrusive. I'm curious to know what your response to the teacher was in the moment?! Miss you so much! ~Gabby xo
Bija on July 17, 2019
Hi Gabby—I miss you too beautiful woman! I said something like “Oh, I really like that breath” and smiled, and I definitely changed my breathing... it was prior to becoming a yoga teacher. It didn’t stop me from using Ujayi breath whenever I feel like it!! Yay! I totally resonate with your noticing of loss of voice—looking back I know I gave him “authority” as the teacher from India that knew more about yoga than I did—but the point to me now is that WE are the authority of our own bodies and breath and I do wish I had talked to him after class to voice how it made me feel, rather than being embarrassed and not saying anything.
Gabby on July 17, 2019
Bij! I can totally relate! So fascinating how situations like these create embarrassment or questioning of authority even though, in reality, our authority over ourselves is what was disregarded. Oh that Universe! Always giving us fun little ways to learn and grow ;) Love you so Bija! xo
Tammy Doerrl on July 17, 2019
Hi Gabby, Thank you for the reminder to always ask permission, even in environments that touch is expected! I've been working with a group of competitive gymnasts who are constantly being touched/corrected/spotted during their gymnastics practice. I must remember that it doesn't mean that as a yoga instructor, I don't need to ask permission first. I don't do any hands-on assists at this point but I have offered encouragement with touch (gentle touch of the arm or shoulder or back). Being in their environment it felt nature but I will definitely make a point of asking at the beginning of the session next time. I once remember a moment that touch took my voice away. A man in a convenience store touched my youngest daughter on the shoulder as he was talking to us and panic ran through my veins. I was unable to articulate what I wanted to say and my voice would not come out. I left the store immediately ushering all three of my kids back to my car. It was such a small encounter but quite upsetting - I had to sit in the car a moment to collect myself! Tammy P.S. - After your wonderful presentation regarding crystals, I've had a recent connection with a rose quartz that told me it must come home with me :) I've had many crystals before but for some reason, this one has really caught my attention! I hold it every evening while reading before bed - it's like it has a personality! Thanks for sharing your love and knowledge with us - now I know what you mean!!!
Gabby on July 17, 2019
Hi Tammy! So wonderful to hear from you:) Competitive sports is such a different environment and it sounds to me like these gymnasts are so lucky to have a compassionate, honoring teacher supporting their athletic journey. I bet they will never forget your request for permission as they continue along especially considering the major issue that rocked the gymnastics world recently! And a big thank you for sharing such a powerful, personal story! My heart can feel what that must have been like when you were in that store. Sounds like a powerful example of your instincts activating. Wow! Goosebumps. ~Gabby xo....oh and my P.S. to your P.S. Super cool!!!! Your rose quartz was just waiting for you all along :)
Tammy Doerrl on July 23, 2019
Thanks Gabby! Yes - the gymnastics world has been sadly tainted by this gross violation and misuse of authority. I am so very thankful for finding DevaTree and learning about my sovereignty as a yogini. In turn, I can pass on this knowledge to the gymnasts and remind them that they are the ultimate authority over their bodies. For me, DevaTree has set Yoga in a more modernized context and the incorporation of “earth-based” teachings has really resonated with me! I can’t wait for my next training!!!
Kristy Stewart on December 21, 2019
I really like this article thanks for sharing an important experience, for both Yoga Teacher; and student. I too love together sis and provide touch, but I know from personal experience that it is not always welcome and permission is number one. I believe it really comes down to ultimately respecting and caring for your students needs, beyond your own needs a teacher.

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