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